Hi everyone,

It’s an honour to be asked to talk with you on your graduation day. It feels slightly strange to be standing before you as a grown up, I really feel like it’s just been a few years since I left Bandon Grammar School. Even though last year was our 10 year class reunion! One reason for this denial may be the fact that I play hockey with a number of school girls in Bandon Hockey Club. They keep us all up to date with the news from the school.

Since Mr Sutton asked me to talk here today I have been doing plenty of brainstorming and panicking about what I would say to the toughest audience of all – 15/16 year olds. I naturally started reflecting on my years in Bandon Grammar and especially thinking of the last few years there. So many great memories and friends made who I still have today. I was also remembering the tougher times that teenage years throw at us. It was a time of great excitement and fun but also sadness and depression at times where I struggled to find the real me. I was trying to fit in and be everything to everyone, just wanting to be liked and loved. What should I be wearing, what music should I be listening to and so on to feel accepted. I definitely spent a lot of energy trying too hard to appear a certain way. Once I felt I was accepted from the outside I felt good but unfortunately this wasn’t sustainable.Remembering these traits made me think of what advice I would give to my 16 year old self, from where I am now and having gone through many different challenges and experiences that have helped me gain a new and fresh perspective on life.

Here are the main pieces of advice for my 16 year old self – hopefully you can relate to some or all of these and place them in your pocket when needed in the future.

My first piece of advice would be to embrace and celebrate your individuality. We all have unique abilities, passions and appearances. To really live your life to the full you need to be free to be your authentic real self. I think the environment here in Bandon Grammar School is great for this but it’s up to you to take full advantage. I would tell my 16 year old self to give up the comparing and do your best to just be your wonderful unique self.

The next piece of advice is linked to the first, this is to show your vulnerability, this means it is ok not to be ok and to let people you trust know if you are feeling unhappy, sad or depressed. That was a real challenge for me as I just wanted people to think I was happy and didn’t want to be troubling anyone with my problems. To be a whole person means to have positive and negative feelings. We appreciate life so much more when we can acknowledge these seemingly negative emotions and know they do pass but not to suppress them like I did. Talk to someone you are comfortable with like a friend, family member or your Chaplin here, Reverend Skuse who you are very lucky to have.

My third bit of advice to my 16 year old self is to try to connect more with your heart instead of your head. From what I know now it is our gut feeling that knows whether a situation is right or wrong for us. This takes practice to find and to listen to. Our mind can be full of fear and just want to give very logic advice which isn’t always the best for us. Parents and teachers can give great advice about our future careers but it’s best to tune into your own compass and find out which direction is best for you as a unique individual. You are heading into leaving cert territory in September and people will be asking you what you want to be after school, this can all be a bit scary as maybe you just don’t know. My advice is to follow your passions and what makes you feel excited to learn more about and the next steps will appear as you go. Planning ahead is useful but always leave room for the unexpected and things working out even better than you thought. This can mean what you plan and want to happen doesn’t work out the way you hoped, but maybe its because something better for you will happen instead.

I have been very fortunate to have learned that when I let go of trying  to figure out what to do the signposts or synchronicities appear (what I mean by synchronicities is the right person or information coming to you at the perfect time for what you need an answer to). This letting go takes practice and trust. I find getting out in nature a great way to quieten the mind and reconnect with this gut feeling. Listening to your favorite music or just daydreaming (not in class) can help this connection also. Life these days can be very noisy and busy. I know I need time to be alone at some stage every day to tune in to the real me.

The final bit of advice I would like to give is to respect and be thankful for your amazing body and all it does automatically. As a Nutritionist it is my job, but is also my passion, to study how the body works and what are the most nourishing foods to support optimum health and vitality. As with the reconnecting to our gut feeling for guidance I also know that the more in-tune we are with our bodies the easier it is to choose the most nourishing foods. The nutrition lesson is for another day but one final piece of advice is to eat foods with as little ingredients as possible, one is best.

So there it is the advice to my 16 year old self – “be yourself as everyone else is taken”.

Enjoy the summer and thank you for listening.