22nd October 2008

Good evening ladies and gentlemen, pupils and distinguished guests.

I am delighted to be here tonight to celebrate your achievements with you. I believe that this is one of the most important days in the school year - a time when parents, teachers and the community come together to recognise what the pupils and the school have accomplished and reward you for the time and effort you have all made.

You should be extremely proud of the high standards that you have achieved for yourself and set for others to follow. These results are a credit not only to the hard work of the pupils but the efforts of all school staff teachers and ancillary staff alike.

Over the past 40 years Cullybackey High School has been going from strength to strength - giving young boys and girls the best possible start in life. Preparing pupils for exams but also giving them the skills to play their part in society - as your mission statement rightly says you have been “creating opportunities for success”.

And by success I mean creating a school environment that helps pupils to achieve their full potential in both academic and vocational studies; and fostering respect through school councils and pastoral care programmes.

Role of the Commissioner

As Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People my job is described simply as:

Promoting and safeguarding the rights and best interests of children and young people to help them challenge and change the world in which they live. But most importantly, to give children and young people in Northern Ireland a voice.

And that’s all children and young people up to 18 in Northern Ireland. No exceptions. No exclusions.

I can also work on behalf of young people up to 21 in two special cases – disabled children and young people who have been in the care system.

In doing my work I must have regard to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UNCRC.

The UNCRC as you will know is a list of 42 promises made by governments from almost all countries in the world to children and young people including the right to education, equal treatment and the right to an opinion.

It is my job to make sure that Government here is keeping these promises for children and young people.

Importance of CYP

Young people should be valued for the important contribution that they make to society. I hear people so often say ‘children are the future’ but I believe you are the present and you should have all you need to play an active part within society now.

Young people like you should have the opportunities to take part in making decisions at all levels of society, from the home to the Northern Ireland Assembly - you should have a say in the decisions that affect you. I am delighted to hear that you have a school council that is actively involved in developing the school environment. 

Last year my office completed a major piece of research looking at children’s rights in Northern Ireland, we spoke to over 2000 children and young people in Northern Ireland, to learn directly from them about their experiences of living here. The youngest child we spoke to was 2 and the oldest was 21. Why? Because at NICCY we believe that every child, from the youngest to the oldest has something to say, and valuable views to share. Out of that research has come 5 Priorities which will shape the work I will do for the next 3 yrs. So why am I telling you this, simply because I believe that you matter, and that its important for you to take the opportunity to get involved, to share your views and to influence the world around you.

Conclusion

For some of you here tonight you are nearing the end of your time at Cullybackey High School and you are making decisions about the next chapter in your life; for others you will continue to further your education here. Wherever your future paths lie, be it further education or employment, I wish you all every success. 

Who knows some of you, may be the politicians of the future, or the Children’s Commissioner.

Thank you