Graduation 2006 – opening address

Monday 19 June 2006

Chancellor, Graduates, Families & Friends, Colleagues

First and foremost, congratulations to all of you who have walked across this stage this afternoon, knelt, received the words et super te, been capped with John Knox’s breeches, been adorned with a colourful hood and now sit proudly as the newest graduates of an ancient university. Well done! Well done also to relatives, friends and especially parents¿the sacrificial supporters of our newest graduates. The sting in the tail is that if your experience as a parent matches mine, do not think your job is finished yet!

In the lives of most students there come spells of anxiety when doubts arise as to whether this day would ever come. This year, however, there were quite a lot of people who wondered whether this day¿our first day of graduation¿ would ever come! You, the graduates of 2006, probably deserve a campaign medal attached to your parchments.

Only a few weeks ago, as a result of the national dispute over lecturers’ pay, you did not know whether many of your lecturers would even be composing exams for you to take. Many universities never did achieve a full set of examinations, but in St Andrews, after much effort, every lecturer agreed in the end to write exams. Yet this was not a foregone conclusion until the very last moment, and you, the students, played an important part. Certainly never before in my 26 years here have I ever seen students marching through the streets of St Andrews demanding to sit examinations! The slogan “You set them, we’ll sit them” deserves a place in the history of St Andrews.

Then followed the anxiety about whether all the assessments would be marked¿and whether you would be able to graduate today with the classified degrees and other qualifications that you deserve. Again I have been proud of the way in which you, the students, and your family members for that matter, bore that uncertainty¿as we endeavoured both to get as many exams marked as possible and to put in place contingency plans for a possibly prolonged dispute. The national settlement came at the very last moment for us to be able to recover from the effects of the boycott¿and I for one am grateful to Deans, the Registry, and indeed all staff¿both academic and non- academic¿who have helped us to work through all the necessary processes since the national settlement in order to meet today’s deadline. It has been tough¿and tough on you¿but we have a right to be proud of the way in which all parts of the University community have united to cope with such an extraordinary set of events and to reach the point where every one of you has received the qualification you deserve, at the right time and having followed all the right checks on quality.

With all those uncertainties now behind you, it would be nice to think that the next step for you will be an easy one. From uncertainty to certainty; from insecurity to security. But you would be exceptional if that were the case. Indeed the press reports that increasing numbers of UK students are not even looking for a job immediately after leaving university. Parents, listen and weep! But whether you will immediately move into your dream job or not, you¿like many St Andrews graduates before you¿have acquired here the skills to find success. Of course that raises the question of success itself. What is success? Part of it will be self-fulfilment, but my hope for you-and I suppose my parting challenge for you-is that you look beyond self-fulfilment to seek ways in which your acquired skills and developing wisdom can have a wider impact. There is much in society that needs that commitment and those skills-and even the ability to deal with uncertainty.

A few years ago I had many months in Princeton. Outside the main administration building of the University, called Nassau Hall, was a large piece of ground which stretched to some iron railings and then out to the main street of old Princeton, Nassau Street. There were about 3 gates in the iron fence that permitted students to move between the street and the campus grounds, but the central one¿whilst always open¿was never used. Students avoided it, just like you avoid stepping on the initials of Patrick Hamilton outside the Chapel, because of a tradition that using that gate would mean that you would never graduate. But come May, the graduation ceremony at Princeton is held outside on this ground in front of Nassau Hall (obviously in the expectation of good weather!), and at the end of the ceremony the students process outwards through that central gate through which they have not previously passed. This act symbolises the point at which they leave their somewhat cosseted ivy-covered seclusion in order to assume their part in the wider world. In just a very few moments, you likewise will process out of this Hall and spill out onto North Street, bearing the dress and the legal documents that mark your graduation. Take them and use them well. Of course come back frequently and ever remain loyal to this University¿but most of all use what you have gained here to make a positive difference out there. And with you goes every good wish for that journey.

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