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Dear Fourth Years

Lisa Kamsickas, a fourth-year student from the School of Psychology and Neuroscience, has written an open letter to the graduating class of 2020, reflecting on four years of life in St Andrews that she and her fellow students have experienced, which has come to an unexpected end due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In her own words Lisa details the experiences, trials and tribulations the graduating year of 2020 have overcome and the spirit of St Andrews.

Lisa, in her own words:

“The past four years have challenged us.

“The summer before we came to St Andrews in 2016, the Brexit vote happened.

“A few short months later as first years, we navigated our university experience amidst a turbulent and divisive American presidential election. Everyone had an opinion, and many weren’t afraid to share theirs.

“In our second year, the Beast from the East storm brought cold weather and cancelled classes.

“One of our friends, Duncan, went missing. His face all over social media and in every store window caused a palpable eeriness around town.

“During that time, the first round of industrial action also happened, leaving us to learn module content independently.

“We then navigated our way through Honours in our third year, a noticeable academic jump for many of us.

“In our fourth year, the strike action happened again – twice.

“And on the last day of strike action, the coronavirus officially reached St Andrews.

“Now, I sit here attempting to pack up my belongings and memories, something I thought I’d have three more months to do. For some, it may feel like the coronavirus robbed us of our final semester, but did not rob us of our character.

“Amidst a turbulent and combative presidential election, we learned to be open-minded and respectful. We had the opportunity to lean into the diversity St Andrews offers to learn about how others live, what motivates them, and what forms their beliefs.

“The Beast from the East taught us to be flexible and to plan ahead (and to wear layers!). And, hey, we got a snow day out of it.

“Duncan’s disappearance, while a tragedy, spearheaded an even stronger sense of community. Hundreds of people on search teams went exploring each and every crevice of St Andrews for him. And amidst the uncertainty, we mourned, grieved, and prayed together.

“Those late nights in the library trying to understand material and finish essays while our lecturers were on strike honed our persistence and determination. The camaraderie felt between the 1000+ people in the Main Library during revision led us to be closer (metaphorically and certainly literally). Perhaps this academic push helped us manage the trying times we had yet to face in Honours.

“And we all survived the dragged-out Brexit, lasting nearly our entire university career.

“The life we’ve spent 3.5 years building suddenly vanished within 72 hours. We didn’t get to take a picture with our completed dissertations in front of our schools’ buildings, have our soakings, cleanse our fourth year academic sins on May Dip, ceremoniously walk around the quad, or voluntarily step on the PH post-exams. Many friends won’t be returning for Grad Ball or Graduation, assuming those events continue as planned. We didn’t get to say goodbye to some friends who shared in our sufferings and joys over the past few years. And for the few who stayed, we couldn’t even give them a fist bump. A “thumbs up” just isn’t the same.

“But we are resilient. It wouldn’t make sense to have self-pity; we have come out of each trial stronger than before. We’ve grown in more ways than one – academically, emotionally, spiritually, physically (perhaps too much Dervish or Courtyard?). Now, we need to dig deep and trust that this, too, is an opportunity for us to grow.

“This isn’t an easy time for us. For anyone. But thank God we have had three and a half of the best years of our lives, which an unexpected, uncertain three months can’t take away. Thank God we have people who care about us enough to want us home and technology to keep us in touch with those we leave. Thank God for the hard times, giving us opportunities to be challenged and to look beyond ourselves.

“While we may not be ready to leave St Andrews, I guarantee that we are ready for “the real world” our lecturers kept rambling on about. Yes, being in a beautiful location surrounded by beaches, historical buildings, and golf courses is a plus, but it’s the people who have made our time in St Andrews so great. Four years ago, getting ready to hop on a plane to start a new life in this little town by the sea, I had no idea of all of the great experiences that were to come, and it was the buildup to leaving that was the hardest part.

“As we get ready to hop on planes to start our lives in “the real world,” I trust that we can’t begin to anticipate the good that will come from this trial. We’ve been preparing all along, and we’re more than ready. Yes, the past four years have challenged us, but they have also changed us.

“Ever to excel!”

With gratitude and in solidarity



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6 thoughts on "Dear Fourth Years"

  1. Jane Cowin says:

    Lisa, I read this as a parent of a Class of 2016 graduate, who did a MLitt in the wonderful St.Andrews. I love to keep up with St.Andrews things, and I have to say that your letter and thoughts epitomise all that is good about the university and its students. I wish you and the Class of 2020 all the best, and if you don’t get the Grad Ball this summer- do it next year I’m sure everyone will willing come home to St.Andrews

    1. Theresa R says:

      So sad for students to end their time in beautiful, spiritual St Andrews so suddenly and to enter such uncharted waters! I graduated in 1981 yet St Andrews life continues to sustain me in so many ways – many of my virtual conversations this week have been with my close friends made there! We all know one day this challenge beyond challenges will pass and that the resilience and kindness we show now will determine the outcome! One day, we will walk on the West Sands again and with even greater appreciation of our wonderful world.

  2. Rob Fennell says:

    Wonderfully and movingly said, Lisa. Thank you. I wish you and all the class of 2020 all the best and every happiness, even in this strange time. (Rev Dr Rob Fennell, MLitt 1999)

  3. Hugh Vinson says:

    My partner went to St Andrews many years ago and copies me with the Newsletter.
    My only comment on the articles that I’ve read is how lucky you young people are in having been to St. Andrews!

  4. Alistair McVey says:

    Dear Lisa, I was saddened to hear about the many interruptions to your fourth year. As an undergraduate at St. Andrews in the 1960s, I was lucky to have experienced nothing like this. I must express my admiration that you could leave the Auld Grey Toon with such positive thoughts. Despite my fourth year being one of quite hard work, probably due to three years of fun as well as academic appreciation, I share your sentiments exactly. Following an academic life in Canada after St. Andrews and retirement on Vancouver Island, my memories of my four years there remain vivid and strong, with a great deal of fondness for that experience. That you remain so positive is to your credit and I wish you the best in the future.

  5. Colin Edgar says:

    Dear Lisa
    How’s about how Lucky you are to live in “Interesting Times”.
    Hope you don’t realise it is an ancient Chinese Curse, a bit like ‘may you live for ever’, see the Oddysey.
    Don’t worry, you will always come back and, if not, often playback your memories.
    It is a City of Eternal Youth and you must go now.
    Buy two copies of Tresaures of St Andrews Uni Library. Dirt cheap for the best timeless pic of StA.
    One is for you, the other for your supporting cast of parents, teachers who don’t know and may never visit.
    Yep, I spent/spend my tiem in special collections ans want a 1509 Pacioli colouring book done of Leonardo’s alphabet or his geometric solids, lyrical as you exact as a qurtz clock and pretty
    Best aye
    Colin Edgar
    Lay Provost St Mary’s Innerpeffray [think St Salvators and deduct 58 years] so I date for 1508.
    once Purse Bearer to Professsor Mapstone.

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