My CTYI journey started with a whimper a long time ago. When I was six or seven, teachers recognised how bored I was in school and I took the test to see if I qualified for CTYI. The test involved matching patterns, and I was such a perfectionist that I spent far too long on each question and didn't get anywhere near finishing the test. Not qualifying for the Saturday sessions was a big blow to my self-confidence. I ended up doing a correspondence course in Creative Writing. Even though it was so long ago, I remember drafting the assignments and the way my instructor's apostrophes always came out as jumbles of symbols like #?&@.
I'm not sure how I found out about CTYI later, when it was time for the 13-17 programme. After screwing up the spatial reasoning part of my school entrance exam, I wasn't given one of the leaflets for CTYI so I actually had to ask the guidance counsellor for one. Spatial reasoning will be the death of me. I remember I was booked in for the test in January 2013 but chickened out because I was so scared of failing again. I very nearly chickened out of the second one too. But I did it. One cold day in February, I went to DCU and did a 2-ish-hour exam in Critical Reading, Writing and Maths. I breezed through the language sections except for getting stuck on the words 'hubris' and 'acumen', but could only do about half of the maths questions. I then got lost in DCU's surrounding area for a few hours.
I was absolutely over the moon when I received the pack that said I'd been accepted. I'd actually achieved one of the highest scores that year and won the maximum merit scholarship CTYI gave out. So I was invited, as we all were, to the 'Celebration of Talent' ceremony (yes, I know). There was a scary moment at the start when they couldn't find my name to let me into the Larkin. Eventually they realised I was on a special list because of the high score so I was in Row A with all the other scholarship people. Lots of speeches and I got a photo with the president of something in which I look like a shark. It seems like such a long time ago now. Two years.
Now, forgive any overlap with my Passionfruit. I did say the whole truth, so that's everything important I remember. CTYI 2013 was a revelation. I'd gone to the Gaeltacht the previous year and had an awful time. The food was good, but I got on abysmally socially and hated it. The people at CTYI were completely different - individuality was encouraged, rather than scorned. There can be a culture of trying to be the most eccentric at CTYI, but even that is so much better than having to fit in inn the unforgiving environment that was the Gaeltacht. A lot of people at CTYI were unpopular at home - not everyone, but plenty. I had been talking to a boy a few days before CTYI, and he adopted me straight into a friend group at CTYI. Pretty much all of them were Nevermores, so it's lucky I made friends elsewhere too, like in my Journalism class (shoutout to Paddy, Dermot, Odgen, James, Cian who taught me my name in Elvish, Beth). Oh, before I went to CTYI I read pretty much the entirety of the wiki so I came in knowing and participating in all the traditions. I'm really sad the wiki has since gone down - it was a treasured resource.
In 2013, I had lots of jam sessions on the ukulele, got shouted at by RAs to turn off my lights at 10.30 (oh the joys of being res), ate dodgy food I actually enjoyed, and had a lot of fun. It's hard to remember who I actually hung out with after three sessions, but I know I spent a lot of time with Cathal and Ciaran (both of whom I went on to date) and the aforementioned people, plus Karen and Aoife. I'm not sure if Ben was around that year. I just felt completely at home. I also lost my sister's phone (well, I left it in my room while the cleaners were there and when I came back it was gone). I performed Ho Hey by the Lumineers at the Talent Show and got great support. I bounced around happily everywhere, and some people told me I was friendly and cheered them up, which meant a lot to me. People also said I was small a lot. Not untrue. I remember juggling in the Botanic Gardens and Ciaran trying to teach me how to count in binary.
Leaving was sad, and I fell out of contact with pretty much everyone, although Cathy (who I'd befriended on June 5th when we bonded over our shared love of books and English Paper 1 on the CTYI Facebook page) did come down to Drogheda for my birthday. I got so lost on the way to the train station to collect her. I went into TY in August 2013 and there was quite a difference from CTYI. I also remember using my Journalism course to get onto the Yearbook team.
My notes from 2013 were absolutely wonderful, so thank you to everyone who wrote one. It was a huge honour to receive the ceremonial Labcoat, mostly because I felt like I'd finally found somewhere i mattered. It was a huge confidence boost.
So then I had to come back.
In 2014, I came back and did Biotech, taught by Dr. Nora Lieggi. I really enjoyed the class. There were moments when I felt my second year wasn't as good as my first, but really it was just that in my first year everything had been such a wondrous surprise. Last year, I made a CTYI best friend in Bridget. It was absolutely wonderful knowing that if we needed to pair off we had each other near-automatically. Also, she was fabulous at violin. She did Session 1 this year, which sucks. So many selfies.
I hung out with a lot of my people from 2013, plus John Joe, Ben, Cathal, Briain, Cian (Newbiemore I went on to date) and probably more. It was just amazing. There was a lot of relationship drama, though, and I'm really glad I didn't let myself be consumed by something like that this year. The thing about CTYI is that it's very intense - the highs are exuberant but the lows are dramatic too. Usually not sadness, but emotions do run away. And every day feels like a week.
There's an incredible preponderance of serendipity ar CTYI, I feel. Seeing Cian, for example, in the CTYI canteen after leaving Irish Times work experience thinking I'd never see him again .. That was quite something.
In 2013 I'd dragged my family home from Sligo a day early to go to the big CTYI reunion. This year I started going regularly to reunions, and properly keeping in contact with people. Friendships developed and became more ... Stable, I guess. CTYI shoves us all together and forms friendships fast, but the friendships mature outside - at reunions and parties and on Skype. Many die, sure, but those that don't are amazing. I also made new friends at reunions - Session 1ers, people too old to have attended while I did, even people who were there but I just never talked to. Have a look at my reunion posts for some of the joy they brought me: I recommend 'The Best Day' and 'Easter Onesie Reunion'. I can't link on the iPad. I started talking to Jerry in the interim, and he became my best friend.
I celebrated my birthday with CTYI people and it was lovely. Shoutout to Cian, Ciaran, Jerry and especially John Joe for the double sleepover.
Then this year, my Nomore year. I'd been writing and saving the whole year to come back. I could only afford a Commuter place, but considering I paid most of the price myself, that's still something. Thanks to mam and my school for helping, and big thanks to mam for paying for res my first year. I also had to pay for my own spending money out of pocket, so I'm broke now. Anyway. Jerrys family kindly let me stay with them so I commuted in and out with him every day.
This year was just incredible. I've blogged about most days and I'll be doing highlights tomorrow so I won't repeat myself, but it was just paradise and I have extreme post-CTY-depression now. But it's going away, because I'm seeing friends this week, because of multiple hours-long phone calls with different friends, the group chat, with growing up and becoming independent and spontaneous ... There was some drama this year, it wasn't all smooth sailing - but I'm glad to say there was no relationship drama, I did learn my lesson. I had the most wonderful best friend in Jason (another superb violinist, in my opinion anyway - he assures me otherwise), away from whom I was constantly moved in classes. The Nevermore/Nomore bond is really strong, and I had the most amazing time with Ben, Aaron, Katie, Joe, Cian, Philip, James, Conal, Lisa, Jerry, Niamh, Amy, Maeve, Sandra, John Joe, Daniel, Chloe, Arianna, PJ, Eve, Thomas, Jack, Gabi, Mai, Steven ... Look, you know who you are. If I didn't put you down just poke me, you're probably too obvious. I'm glad Amy was so happy to receive the labcoat. It was very, very sad for me to pass it on (sad autocorrects to dad - what have you done, Lisa?). Shoutout to Jason, Kat and Isobel for great notes.
In some ways it's the end, and in some it's not. You see CTYI people everywhere, as Aaron said in his amazing Passionfruit speech. I saw Aoife Gregg after a year and a half at the Young Scientist, watching her sister wipe the floor, Odgen Deacon doing a college assignment in Stephens Green. You see them everywhere at awards ceremonies, but even just walking around Dublin. For what's supposedly 5% of a subsection of the population, we are legion.
I trust my CTYI people implicitly (let's pretend I know what that word means in this context - I've seen this sentence construction before). Sure, we've had the bants - but you've also made a huge impact on who I am as a person. Even just this year, I've been left reevaluating a lot of my life goals and choices as I understand how crucial friendships and silly teenage antics are.
CTYI is my favourite place in the world for a reason. Please keep doing what you're doing (I'm getting emotional now). I don't know if anything will ever beat the sense of connection, of unity we feel wile lying on the floor in the dark waving our arms to Street Spirit, I really don't - but we can carry it with us. Even though the real world can intrude more easily on reunions than on the heavily-protected, fire-hazardous lands of CTYI, we are the ones who make CTYI what it is. You are not alone.
CTYI will always be my idea of paradise. I can't thank you enough.