I have a June birthday, and therefore many happy birthday memories of sitting in sweaty exam halls wondering what to write next, unable to fathom some knotty problem. I was not a quick worker, though I could ramble on and on in essay questions. Here are a couple of Physics questions that came my way: If a pendulum clock keeps time at the foot of the Post Office Tower in London, estimate its error at the top. And another: Estimate the weight of the heaviest insect that can be supported by surface tension on a pond. Nothing given, everything had to be estimated. Here is a question I liked rather more: ‘Architecture is frozen music’. Discuss.
I recall that one early summer Sunday in 1970, when it was my turn to do the prayers at Evensong in Queens’ College Chapel, Cambridge. I asked that we might ‘attain the results we deserve.’ It caused some consternation, and that year, the end of my first year, I got a third. Not good. Quod erat demonstrandum.
In those post-WW2 babyboom days, education was seen as a means of bettering oneself, and increasing one’s chances of getting a good job. Those were the days in England when what you knew was more important than who you knew. Those days, now gone in England I think, have not yet arrived in Ireland. We hear politicians lamenting the brain drain from Ireland, and yet here, more than anywhere else I know, people boast about pulling strings, and ‘having a word’, and sidestepping the system. Perhaps that’s one reason, other than economics, why young people emigrate.
Some people are very bright. They do little work and yet outshine the rest. They are positively sick-making. Some people acquire ‘cop-on’ and learn to play the system. Some people know exactly what they will do, and they do it. Some spend their lives exploring, trying this, trying that, and so end up as a Rector in Co Laois. I recall feeling apprehensive a fair amount of time as a student, never sure why I was there, and without any vision of a future. Now that I come to think of it, that’s still pretty much the case, though the apprehensiveness (apprehension?) has largely dissipated.
I don’t know anything any more, and I certainly have no idea if I got the results I deserve, or if anyone ever does. But I send my warmest greetings and blessings to all students and hope that they will, whatever results they get, live with delight and bring delight to others. Nothing else matters.