The German and Maths teacher at Scoil Mhuire Secondary School in Trim has one thing in common with his Leaving Certificate students this year.

Like them, his own Leaving Cert exams, or their equivalent, were cancelled abruptly 28 years ago.

In his case too, they were replaced with calculated grades, based on teacher estimations. But his was a far more rushed process.

One morning in 1992, 17-year-old Domo Kajic and his classmates were brought into the hall of their school in the Bosnian town of Jajce.

Their names were called out, the principal shook their hands, presented them with their state certificates, and then he shut down the school.

The next day, Domo joined his father and his brother in the mountains, as the people of Jajce organised to defend their town from approaching Yugoslav Serbian forces.

"That was it," he says. "A couple of days later the first bombing started. In the morning and in the late afternoon we had the first airstrikes.

"Vukovar had been sacked a few months earlier, so we knew the ferocity of the Serbian army. We knew the war was coming to our town."

"I was so young. I had no clue. I only felt it was the right thing to do, that somebody had to stand up".

Domo is matter of fact as he describes the events of those days.

"I was so young. I had no clue. I only felt it was the right thing to do, that somebody had to stand up," he says.

Over the course of that summer and into the autumn, the town of Jajce came under fierce bombardment. But it held out, besieged, until finally in October the town fell to Serbian forces.

Domo Kajic as a boy in Bosnia before the war began

Then what has been described as "the longest and most wretched single exodus" of the Bosnian War began. As Serbian tanks rolled towards the town, somewhere between 30,000 to 40,000 people fled.

The column of refugees that joined the retreating forces was estimated by the New York Times to be 48km long.

But Domo was not among them.

A shrapnel injury three months into the war prompted his family to get him, his mother and brother out of the war zone.

In what he describes as a difficult and dangerous journey they drove at night, with no lights on, using what he calls "old donkey roads" - forgotten back roads through forests and wild terrain - all the while trying to avoid the Yugoslav army.

They made it to Zagreb and then Domo went to an uncle in Munich as a refugee. By now he had turned 18.

For the next five years Domo washed dishes in the kitchen of a Munich restaurant.

The money he earned was used to support his family; his parents and brother, and his maternal grandparents, who by now were in a refugee camp. For those five years his family relied upon his earnings for their survival.

In 1995, Jajce was released from Serbian control, and two years later Domo and his family returned, to devastation. The family home had been destroyed, along with everything in it. Or almost everything.

Just one photo exists of Domo's childhood years. This single memento survived because it was framed and had been placed in a wooden box.

It was only then, in 1997, that Domo could resume his education. A degree in Bosnia was followed by a scholarship to Germany and a Masters.

At university there Domo met a young Irish woman, a student on an exchange semester from DCU.

Now, 20 years on, they are both happily settled in Trim, with their children. The town reminds Domo of home.

"Trim is just like Jajic was ... built around an ancient castle in the old town".

"You only get to know a person's true value in times of crisis. And the bigger the crisis the more you learn".

Domo Kajic continues to support his only surviving parent, his mother. She too played her part in the resistance, delivering food to the front lines and to elderly people in the town during the siege.

"The experience of those years made me what I am now," he says.

"I am humble. You only get to know a person’s true value in times of crisis. And the bigger the crisis the more you learn.

"As a teacher I know not to judge a student by their academic achievement. They could be very valuable members of society at a time of crisis."

As to his own career path, Domo says that the tremendous upheaval he suffered in those important years of his early adult life made "no difference" in the end.

"I got my masters degree and another qualification in translation studies, and I became a teacher. I am the third generation of teachers in my family," he says.

That one photo of Domo as a child now hangs on the wall of his mother’s new home in Jajce.

This earnest looking child, performing a piano piece at a concert in the town hall, could have had no idea of the turbulent and traumatic years he was about to face into, or of how he would be tested.

As a child Domo was a promising pianist, attending a special school and practicing for several hours every day. But the war put an abrupt end to that.

In recent years though Domo has begun, tentatively, to play again.

Scoil Mhuire is a musical school, he says, and sometimes now with his students he will play. "Badly!" he says.

Looking ahead to today's calculated grades results, and to the uncertainty and restriction that Covid-19 has caused, Domo Kajic’s message for the class of 2020 is to be patient.

"It is very difficult for a young person to have patience and not to panic. That comes with time.

"I would say 'believe in yourself', and if you can, believe in God, or in something positive. A better future might not come tomorrow, but it will come."