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Oakgrove College Prizegiving


Integrated College gathering asked to help keep alive the promise of hope 25 years ago

Oakgrove College’s Principal has called for greater encouragement and hope. Speaking at the school’s senior celebration of success, John Harkin asked the audience to “do more to encourage, be encouraged and to keep hope alive”. He pointed to those celebrating as the proof of hope – saying that they are products of a school set up to bridge divides and help promote reconciliation.

Focusing specifically on the events since the Belfast-Good Friday Agreement 25 years ago, he said that much more could be done to bring communities together. Reflecting on the school’s history, Mr Harkin said it was a triumph of hope. He told families: “You, families, are the lifeblood of this school. In a city, a community divided, your choices make a difference.” He described a great moment of pride last year was a letter from a parent who said she never thought a boy from her estate would become best friends with a boy from an “opposite” estate, but that is what happened. Mr Harkin said “That was what happened through his 7 years in this integrated school in a divided city. History is made in and by the little patient steps. This school was founded as a symbol of hope. The achievements we celebrate today are the achievements of the individuals who are keeping hope alive.”

In welcoming Principals of other local schools, John Harkin said that their presence was the clearest, most powerful symbol that across all the differences in school types, “we share one common purpose: to get the best for and the best from all the young people of this city.”

Principal John Harkin explained his particular joy in watching children grow and flourish when it seemed to be ‘against the odds’. He observed that the families gathered in Oakgrove came in different shapes and sizes, from different places and backgrounds but all with the same hopes and fears, sorrows and joys.

He talked of some of the pain and difficulty of the last school year including the loss of a colleague. “Our own Oakgrove family felt the grief and pain of the death of our beloved Maths colleague, Michelle Hartin. We think of her with great affection.” He went on to say that humanity shines through at our moments which are best, and which are worst, adding “I keep seeing in this Oakgrove family in the most dark, difficult times, the greatest of strength, the greatest of humanity.”

Mr Harkin described Oakgrove as a different way of doing thigs for all. He said “We as adults learn from each other’s differences just as the children do. Our Oakgrove way shows us that together we are stronger.”

Praising the contribution of the entire staff, he pointed out how much the students appreciated them: “the simple truth is that the children in this school appreciate those who have encouraged them, who have seen a spark of something and nurtured that.” He added that “we as teachers know that being able to encourage is the most precious and the most worthwhile thing anyone anywhere can ever do.”

Oakgrove Integrated College continues a year of events and conversations to celebrate the school’s 30th anniversary, starting with the date of its official opening on December 10, 1992. Past pupils who would like to get involved are encouraged to get in touch with the school.


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