The Aquinas Prize Evening for the academic year, 2018-19 took place this year on Wednesday 18 December 2019. The event combined the Celebration of GCSE achievement, for the current Year Thirteens, and the Celebration of A’ Level achievement for last year’s Year Fourteen.

It was indeed a pleasure to welcome our past pupil (1995-2002), Mr John Fitzsimons as Guest of Honour and keynote speaker for this year’s Prize Night.

Despite a visual impairment, John achieved decent A’ Level grades that got him into the Ulster University at Coleraine where he earned a BA honours degree in Geography. He now works for a major city centre company, as a Senior Manager with 150 people under his direction. In terms of career path, John considers his best qualifications as being good at the “soft skills” of communication and relationship building.

This is something that was emphasised by Principal, Mr Barry Kelly, in his speech, noting that qualifications are the first step in getting a job, the next step is about the person. He went on to publicly congratulate the GCSE and A’ Level students on their achievements giving details of their impressive grade statistics. Their families and teachers are understandably very proud of their success. Mr Kelly also commended the hard work of the staff in getting the best out of the students.

Heads of Departments were on stage and presented pupils who scored the highest in the year group with specific subject trophies.

The pupils were duly congratulated from the stage on their achievements with the landmark award for GCSE, the Monsignor Bartley Award for academic achievement, won by Michael Girvan who achieved eleven A/A* grades.

Joseph McSorley in Year thirteen was publicly applauded for gaining second place in Northern Ireland in his GCSE Chemistry and Rory Lynch from last years’ Year 14 was second in Northern Ireland in A’ Level History.

Finally, the three milestone awards for the evening were presented by our guest of honour, John Fitzsimons. The first one, the Paula Grant Award for Endeavour, was awarded to Patrick O’Neill; the Monsignor Bartley Award for Academic Achievement was won by James O’Rourke and the Bishop Walsh, Spirit of Aquinas Award was won by Orla Harney. These prizes are highly valued, hard earned and the three pupils fully deserved them for all their efforts.

Music for the event was beautifully performed by our own pupils, with the opening piece performed by the school’s String Quartet, the intermission piece was sung by Tara Cullen, accompanied by Niamh O’Hare and the final piece of Christmas music was performed by the Year 13 Ensemble.

The current Head Boy, Oisin Cahalane and Head Girl, Katie Mooney presented John with a gift and vote of thanks for his valuable contribution to proceedings and Father Grant brought the event to a close with a prayer and reflection.

The evening finished with pupils, past-pupils, families, teachers and guests enjoying refreshments in the Mall in a true mood of celebration. Many congratulations to all.