My Graduate Life: Ellen Whelan

If you judge a fish on his ability to climb a tree, he will spend his whole life believing he is stupid. Isn’t that what they say?

This is pretty much how I felt during my whole school life. I was not overly intelligent, and I managed to zone out at every given opportunity. I was always super chatty so of course that never went down well with the teaching staff and I would volunteer on any project that meant I could get out of class. I am a very practical person and always loved organising things and having responsibility, but I never really had an idea on what I wanted to do as a career. I knew it would be something to do with working with people where I could talk away to my heart’s content and build my network.  I am incredibly lucky that my parents are really supportive, never pointing me in a direction I did not want to go. They also understood that sometimes school just is not for everyone which helped me develop in other areas. By the time I got to 6th year I thought I would do something along the lines of marketing, public relations and communications. I went to see the school’s guidance counselor to get some advice on my CAO options. He asked me how many points I was expecting to get in my leaving cert, so I gave him an estimate on what I thought I could achieve. He replied with ‘what makes you think you will get that many? You’ve only ever been average your whole way through school’.

At the time, I did not even realise how harsh his comments were until I spoke to my friends about the meeting. His words really stuck with me after this. I thought, you know what he is probably right! I got through my leaving cert with minimal effort and still had no clue what path I wanted to follow. I thought I would give myself another year to decide so I did a PLC course in Business and Information Technology. I would highly recommend a PLC course to anyone who is still unsure of what they want to do, I learned much on the course. During this time, my friend and I were DJing at nearly every event happening in the area.  I loved working at these events because I was meeting new people all the time and there was, and still is, no better feeling than getting everyone onto the dancefloor or watching people enjoy themselves because of something you have organised. I genuinely did not realise that I had found the career I wanted. I was chatting with my Mam who said, ‘what about event management?’ I did not even know it was a course! I researched lots of options and found the Business with Event Management course in Limerick Institute of Technology. I started the course in 2016 and could not believe how much I loved it. It was at this time when I thought, now that I am doing something I really love, I am going to work hard, and I am going to be good at this.

Ellen graduated from Limerick IT in 2020.

I did my first-year exams and could not believe that I was such a sponge for all this information. I was understanding everything my lecturers were saying and I found it all so interesting! When I got my results back in the Summer, and my grades were well above average, that was my first realisation moment where I thought, I can do this. For the next few years, I worked hard and developed great relationships with my lecturers. Working on these relationships was at the top of my agenda and I would really recommend to anyone reading this that is in college to make an effort with your lecturers.

They have an incredible network of industry professionals and when an opportunity comes up, you will be top of mind. In third year of my degree, I got into Grooveyard Event Management for an internship. Grooveyard is one of Ireland’s leading event management agencies and is a company that I dreamed of working in. I can honestly say I would have never had this opportunity without the help from my lecturer, Marie. She made the connection with Grooveyard’s managing director and I honestly think she would have fought tooth and nail to get me in there – thank god she did not have to in the end! My time on work placement was something I will never forget. It fuelled my passion for events even more and I took every opportunity to network and learn the business.

Going into final year, I wanted to prove to anyone who ever thought I was ‘average’ wrong. I picked a thesis topic which I knew I would enjoy the whole way through writing and researching. Someone said to me ‘write about something you are genuinely interested in’ and that was probably the best advice I could have received. A lot of assignments in final year are group work so I got a really great team of people together that I knew had the same drive as me and would work equally as hard. It is so important to pick your team for the right reasons and not just because they are your friends because it can get stressful really quickly. I put my head down, kept up the relationships I had made with my lecturers, answered questions in class and made sure to have some fun along the way – it can’t be all hard work!

In November 2020, I graduated with a First-Class Honours result from the B.A. (Hons.) Degree in Business Studies with Event Management and received the Savoy Hotel Award for excellence on the course. It was one of the proudest moments of my life because not only did I prove to everyone else that I could be more than just ‘average’, but for the first time I actually believed it myself.

It was in March of my final year when Covid-19 hit, and I was devastated because the events sector was the first industry to be affected. I knew that was my career in events gone for a few months at least. In September 2020, I got a job working with Louise McDonnell, a social media marketing expert. Louise has been listed as one of the top worldwide Facebook Marketing Bloggers by Feedspot and was also listed as number 16 on a list of Ireland’s top 50 marketers most recently. I thought if I could not get a job in the event industry, then I would look for something that would be an asset to any company in future years and would be transferrable in any country or field of work. I currently manage client accounts where I create social media content and give training to hundreds of businesses on how they can use social media more strategically to make sales, it really is a super rewarding job! I helped a small Irish business make their first proper Facebook sale recently and they were just overjoyed. They have gone on now to make many more sales from implementing my recommendations and it has really given them the boost they needed to make 2021 their best year in business yet. I am currently working on many Shop Local and Shop in Ireland campaigns that are running nationwide, and our client base is significantly increasing every month. The event industry will pick up again eventually, but for now I am really happy with the path I’m on.

I always think that if they had asked that fish to swim instead of asking him to climb a tree, he would have realised his true potential. I think that when you actually sit back and look at what you are really good at or what your best qualities are, you will find that there is a lot more within you than either being book smart or not. If someone had of said to me all those years ago, ‘well you could talk the back legs off a donkey’ (to quote my dad) in a positive way, I probably wouldn’t have spent so much of my younger life thinking I would always be average.

Ellen Whelan

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