“Could you have done any better?”

Prize Giving 20 September 2012 address By Guest Speaker Mr Paddy Clerkin

Reverent Fathers, Principal Brady, distinguished guests, teachers, proud parents and gifted students,

The last time I stood on this stage I was dressed up as a Japanese maid in the Mikado opera, so if I start dancing you will know why!

“Could you have done any better?” That was the question that changed my life.

Tonight I will give you a few tales about my experiences since I first walked through the gates of this great school 31 years ago. I’ve had some success and many failures. Thankfully the most valuable lessons I have learnt are not from my success, but from my failures.

Hopefully one or two of you will take something away from my experiences.

First, I would like to say a few words of congratulations on the success the college achieved in the recent exam results.

I visited the school website last week and I read with great interest, and genuine delight, about the stellar performance of the school as a whole.

Principal Brady has already outlined the great results at both A level and GCSE so I will not repeat them. However they are a fantastic achievement. I am genuinely delighted and proud of your achievements.

My father, Pat Clerkin was a teacher here for 41 years. I remember that, whenever the results were released, my father would take a copy of the results away for analysis. He used to pore over each student’s results. Occasionally he would shout for joy and bang the table with delight. He took great pride is telling me how such and such a student was only expected to pass 3 O levels but passed 6, enough to get him back to do A Levels. That was as satisfying to my father as the ‘Straight A’ student who got straight As.

I noticed several of Principal Brady’s comments on the school website.

Regarding the mentoring system….’These students, without exception, outperformed their predicted GCSE grades and a number gained an extra 3 or 4 A*-C grades.’

‘Obviously the top achievers catch the headlines, but there has been significant achievement right across the ability range. The students and teachers should be rightly proud of the tremendous set of results that have been achieved.’

‘Most encouraging was the fact that the majority of our young people succeeded and reached their potential…’

Principal Brady, I know my father will be looking down from heaven on you with great approval and he will be celebrating not just the headline grabbing students, but those students who proudly reached or exceeded their potential.

At the end of my fourth year here, half way through my ‘O’-Levels, I passed 3 out of 10 exams. If that performance had continued into 5th-year I would not have been allowed back to do my A levels.

Thankfully I managed to turn it around. I passed 7-O Levels but failed 3. I left here with straight ‘A’s at A-Level in Chemistry, Physics and Maths, got a First Class Honours degree in Actuarial Maths, went to Oxford University, gained an M.Sc. in Mathematical Finance, coming top of my class, worked in Investment Banking in London before moving to Dubai 5-years ago where I raise money in the Capital Markets for my bank to invest.

I’m in an extremely fortunate position that my job is really fun. This year my team has raised over 2,000 million pounds for the bank, That’s 55 million pounds a week, 8m a day or 92 pounds every second of every minute of every hour of every day of the year. I work with some very bright people with all kinds of skills from PhD’s in rocket science, lawyers right through to people who have History of Art degrees. It takes a mix of all skills to make a successful business.

I’ve had some other fun jobs. At Oxford I studied a relatively new branch of mathematics, called Stochastic Calculus. One of the practical uses of this was to try and model random events, like stock market movements. One of the most exciting jobs I’ve had was working for JP Morgan, the American Investment Bank. I was part of a team that used to manage a large fund. It was my job to build statistical models to try and predict how much stock markets could rise or fall over various time horizons to make sure that we weren’t taking too much, or too little risk. It was great fun, it was like getting paid to do your hobby!

So what happened in my early years here?

Long after leaving school I remember finding my end of term reports that my father had filed away. First year, first term everything was fine. By the second term my results started to deteriorate and continued to do so until the end of 4th year.
At that time I tried to figure out what had went wrong. I remember falling in with a few boys who were great craic. Unfortunately they had no interest in working. They had farms and family businesses to go to when they were 16 years old. I didn’t have those options. In hindsight, by not working in my early years, I really gave myself an uphill struggle for the rest of my academic career. I had already affected my O Level results. And irrespective of what my A levels would be, when universities are considering my application, the only official results they could rely upon were my O Level results.

So be careful when choosing your friends. They will affect what University you get into.

So how did I turn it around?

The first observation is for teachers, parents and guardians.

Praise is a powerful motivator.

As we started our Statistics module in 5th year, Aidan Corr, my Maths teacher, asked the class a simple statistical questions. If you roll two dice what is the probability of scoring a 3.

‘Clerkin’ he said, ‘you look like a devious character, how would you answer that?’

‘It’s 1/18th sir, there are 36 different possible outcome comes but only two outcomes will give you a three. Score a 1 on the first dice and a 2 on the second or score a 2 on the first dice and a 1 on the second. So 2 out of 36 =1/18th.’

‘That’s excellent Clerkin, you are going to do well in Statistics!’

I remember how enthused and excited I was about the forthcoming statistics course. That one little comment of praise started a fire and a passion within me for Statistics.

I had started to improve, but only enough to pass 7 O levels.

Then came the real life changing moment.

We were in our kitchen in Cushendall, having a cup of tea with the McReynolds family from Ballymena.

I had just received my O-level results, passing 7 and failing 3.

Mr Mc Reynolds asked me, ‘Paddy, could you have done any better?’

‘Sure I could’, I said, ‘But it doesn’t matter as I got enough to get back to do the ‘A’ levels I want.’

‘Shame on you’, Mr McReynolds said.

I was shocked and angry. It just dawned on me how much of my life I had already wasted. How much opportunity had passed me by. How I had let people down, like Mr Hughes, my Geography teacher by failing his subject. I was ashamed of myself.

I entered A levels with a determination. The more I studied the more I enjoyed the subjects. We had a very strong class in each of my subjects, Chemistry, Physics and Maths. Competitive but respectful. We all wanted to come first in our end of term exams. If we didn’t come first it just spurred us on ever more, more determined to come first the next time.

I used to go through twenty years of past papers from 1987 back to 1968. I would have gone back further except they were pre-decimal! Instead I started to go through different Board papers to find more questions to do.

I remember my father, who was teaching me Chemistry at the time, coming into my study room one night to tell me that I was working too hard and I should go to bed!

A level results came out. I remember my father lifting me with pride when he discovered I had scored 3 ‘A’s at a level. That one moment was one of the most special moments of my life.

I went to study Actuarial Maths at Heriot Watt University. I worked hard and at the end of first year I was awarded a sponsorship. I gained a First Class Honours degree.

I applied to Oxford University to do a Masters in Mathematical Finance. I passed my entrance test and my interview and was accepted. Over half my class held Ph.D.s. I worked extremely hard and came top of my class. To bring my parents over to Oxford for my graduation was the proudest day of my life.

Finally I felt comfortable answering Mr McReynolds question, “Could you have done any better?”

And remember this was all achieved against a background of passing 3 exams out of 10 in 4th year.
I would like to finish with 2 observations:

First, what is the difference between good and great?

Currently on the US PGA golf tour Rory McIlroy, is in first place, with an average score per round of 69.62. In 35th place, exactly one shot per round back is Richard Lee on 70.62.

The difference between good and great is very small, only one shot.

Secondly, we are all different, search out and find your strengths.

A couple of years ago, I along with 19 other colleagues attended a management course within my bank. We were being developed as the future leaders of the bank.

In one module our personalities were profiled. We had to answer about 100 questions on our likes, dislikes, preferences etc.

We were then split into two groups depending on our profile. Each group was given a picture and asked to list words we associated with the picture.

My group was given a picture of a burning oil rig. It was out of control. We listed words like natural disaster, death, destruction…

The other team was given the same picture. There list of words included, ‘calmness, serenity, peacefulness’.

I couldn’t believe my ears and I’m sure they were equally mystified by our list of words.

The purpose of this exercise was to demonstrate how people will interpret the same information in different ways.

We also learnt that some people need the adrenalin rush of leaving things to the last minute, like homework on a Sunday night. Other people prefer to do things upfront, like homework on a Friday evening, get it over and done with and have the rest of the weekend free.

You can imagine that if a ‘get it done early’ person is managing a project with a group of ‘leave it to the last minute people’ this can cause friction.

People work in different ways. There is no right or wrong way for people to work.

The same goes for studying. You need to search out and find what techniques work best for you. Going through 20 years of past papers may not work for everyone. When studying, keep asking yourself, ‘Is this a good use of my time?’ ‘What have I learnt in the last hour?’

The pressures on young people today are immense. Sometime you can overwork. If you are tired and you are not productive it is time to call it a day. Your time would be better spent relaxing and recharging yourself for tomorrow’s studies.

Keep asking yourself, ‘Could I have done any better?’

It has been my honour to address you tonight. Thank you so much for your time.

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