Graduation address – Aaron Quigley

Thursday 23 June 2011

Chancellor, honoured guests, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen

Firstly, I would like to offer my heartfelt congratulations to all of our new graduates. We all join you in celebrating your accomplishments and for graduating from the University of St Andrews today. You join a distinguished Alumni who over the past six centuries have taken what they learned here to help change the world. Yes, we have many famous alumni including nobel prize winners, great writers, politicians and even the founder of the Presbyterian church John Knox. However, we also count amongst our alumni many teachers, mathematicians, medics and members of the armed forces who have each had an important impact on our world, as I hope will you.

It’s easy to forget while in such auspicious surrounding that all of our graduates have sat where you are today. From the nurse to the nobel prize winner, or indeed the prince to the programmer, they each had the same potential as you do now, to make our world a better place. And just like you, they were all surely thinking, “What do I do now”? However, before we look forward to your future, let us take a moment to look back and to offer three notes of thanks.

Firstly, I would like to thank you, our graduates. On behalf of my colleagues, I thank you for coming to your early morning lectures, for being prepared for your tutorials, for submitting your assignments on time, and for studying diligently for your exams. We live in an often jaded world, so it’s always refreshing to us to meet students who are passionate about learning. This might be the second years in an early morning tutorial arguing over the finer details of a question, to a class of fourth years presenting their final projects and thesis. It has been our great privilege and pleasure, to share this journey of learning with you.

One of my colleagues once described the job of academics as both coach and umpire. For the most part we have been your coach and I hope we gave the best of ourselves in your learning experience. Personally, I think this is why academics are here, we want to educate you so that you are equipped with the skills sets, graduate attributes and the ability for analytical thinking that is needed in the wider world.

Of course, we have also been your umpire from time to time, and I hope you will agree that maintaining high standards is a hallmark of this University. I’ve worked in half a dozen Universities around the world, and I can assure you, that the commitment to teaching excellence and standards I have seen here, is beyond compare. This is certainly why this University is consistently ranked among the United Kingdom’s top ten, across all the university league tables. However today, we are neither coach nor umpire, your time on the team is over, you are finished this stage in your journey, be proud of what you have achieved. Today, we step back, while you step forward.

Second, and on your behalf, I would like to thank the staff of the University of St Andrews and the people of this fine town. They are very proud of you, and justifiably so. Last year I attended the golf graduation and I sat in the back of the balcony. Beside me sat two retired teachers from Dundee who live in town, and these ladies told me that they often come to graduations here, as do many of their friends. Perhaps they are here today? This rare pride the townsfolk have in the University and in our graduates is unparalleled in my experience and is a testament to the great love and respect the people of St Andrews, Fife and Scotland have for this ancient University.

Now, some people describe a University as an iceberg, with 90% of it hidden from view. Myself, I prefer to think of it as a Swan, graceful and elegant above the water but madly kicking it’s webbed feet below. In your time here, you have interacted with many of the academic staff but it’s often too easy to forget the hundreds of general staff of St Andrews who help administer degrees, run the library and IT systems, clean and cook meals or maintain our fine buildings. To each of these members of staff, I pay particular thanks for their often unseen efforts. At the risk of labouring the metaphor, then if the University is a swan, she is best thought of inflight, soaring, majestic, with all her parts equally important to help keep her balanced and aloft, not simply floating down the river!

My final note of thanks goes to your family; your parents and partners, your brothers and sisters, or your boy-friend or girl-friend. They have been with you, supported you, loved you and cared for you every step of the way. I’m certain you appreciate the sacrifices they have made for you, and I would like to thank them for their support. Remember to thank them today, or if they cannot be here, then in the days ahead.

And so, onto your future. After being invited to give this graduation address I did extensive research on what is involved in one, I am after all an academic, research, it’s what we do! So along with pithy quotes and punchy tales I discovered that no one really thinks you will recall anything I say! So, together, lets try to change this status quo. I’m going to ask you to remember only one thing, and it’s this, invest your time wisely. I will be asking questions afterwards in the quad, so I do suggest you remember it! Let me say it again, invest your time wisely.

For whatever future you have in mind, your time is all you have that is truly yours, so don’t waste it. You have only one life to live, so live it well. Follow your dreams and don’t let life grind you down. Don’t waste your time in life. Don’t waste your time doing a job you are not passionate, proud and interested in. Live a life true to yourself, and not the life others expect of you. For no matter what changes in technology, society or government brings, it’s up to you to invest your time so that your dreams don’t go unfulfilled.

Of course, you have already made one good investment here in your education. This is an investment which has equipped you for the challenges ahead and will pay off over the rest of your life. Of course it means you have the skills and knowledge to apply for different jobs, or to go onto further postgraduate study. However, it’s the less obvious returns which will pay off in more rewarding ways. Every decision that you make, every choice presented to you now, can be viewed through this prism of critical thinking and a mindset your education has equipped you with.

I would hope our honorand today Dame Stephanie Shirley agrees with the advice on investing your time wisely. She has spent much of her life investing her time carefully in her work and philanthropic efforts.

And so to conclude, enjoy the rest of your day, thank your family and make sure to reintroduce them to this wonderful University and town. Be proud of what you have achieved in your time here. And please remember to come back and visit, or tell us how you are doing in life.

As you leave Younger Hall today, onto the next step of your journey, I say again, your most precious asset is your time, spend it wisely, spend it well.

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