This Christmas will be a subdued one for Ireland. While we can already see the lights on Grafton Street, the trees in shops and offices and seasonal coffees in various cafés, the recent financial and political troubles we have experienced have meant that it can, at times, be hard to feel excited about the festive season. With the bailout, visits from the IMF and bond prices constantly rising, we are all wondering where we can feasibly go from here.Ireland’s spectacular fall from grace was inevitable, but no one could have imagined that it would be this bad. However, in light of what has happened, the biggest mistake would be to wallow in our unfortunate situation.The announcement of a general election should come as a fresh start for Ireland. Politics in Ireland does not need another party taking over the reins from Fianna Fáil, only to make the same mistakes. We need dynamic and new leadership and a break from the tired political system that we have had since the Civil War. Why do we allow petty squabbling parties dictate the way in which our country is run in one of our darkest economic periods?The time for a new political ideal is here. We can no longer afford to rest on our laurels and blithely complain, as we have been content to do in the past. Apathy is no longer an option. Consider the power of your vote. When representatives call to your door, do not be afraid to question them. Ask them what they will do for you, how they plan to save your future. Students and graduates are the ones who are leaving this country in their droves and any public representative should be doing all they can to keep us here.We have been ignored for too long. The power is there, as represented in the recent USI protests, so why aren’t politicians begging us for votes? We know that the minimum wage and grants will be cut and that the third-level registration fee will rise. We cannot forget that we have power to sway decisions and affect change. Do not let politicians go unchallenged. They should be at the mercy of students.As well as challenging, do not let your voice go unheard. Students are notorious for staying away from the polls. If you don’t want to go home to vote, move your vote to Dublin. These elections are too important to allow ourselves to be complacent. Do not become a statistic. If you don’t vote, you have lost your right to speak about Irish politics.Semester One is coming to a close and as the library begins to get more and more crowded, the fact that exams are just around the corner cannot be ignored. This also marks the period at which the final graduations of the year take place. While campus is quiet as classes end, numerous graduands will line up in O’Reilly Hall to receive their degrees.This is a time for reflection and thought. As you enter into the assessment period, take advantage of the services available to you. Don’t struggle. Be calm and measured and don’t put yourself under undue pressure. Both the university and Students’ Union have help and support available to students who feel they are unable to cope under the pressure of the assessment period.Similarly, for those of us receiving degrees, myself included, it is an uncertain time. We are unsure of our future and what options are available to us. It is hard to not be pessimistic or to simply decide upon emigration. We cannot be sure of what the future holds, but while we have come to an uncertain juncture in our lives, the excitement of new opportunities and paths cannot be forgotten.The University Observer would like to wish all of our staff, contributors and writers the best of luck in their assignments and exams. We would also like to thank everyone who has contributed to the newspaper this semester and everyone who has picked up a copy to read, contributed comments to our website, written us letters or dropped into the office to give us feedback. It’s quite unbelievable how quickly this semester has passed.We would also like to wish everyone a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.