Graduation address – David Cole-Hamilton

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Chancellor, Principal, Honoured Guests, Ladies, Gentlemen colleagues and especially new Graduates and their supporters – Welcome on this very wonderful occasion. It is a great honour for me to be allowed to address scientists, especially our wonderful Chemistry class who have worked so hard and done so well. Last time I did this it was a class of Historians. I was uniquely suited to that task as I failed History ‘O’ Level! To be fair, I have never taken a Biology class in my life, but fortunately we have heard from others much more expert than me.

Today is a day of great celebration when we think about your careers here and rejoice in your success, but it is also a day tinged with sadness, especially for our wonderful Chemistry students. Very sadly a young member of the staff, Nigel Botting died two weeks ago after a short but virulent illness. We are all devastated by Nigel’s loss, but what I hope we can do today is remember his wonderful legacy. Nigel was an inspirational teacher of Organic Chemistry, winning four teaching awards as a result of recommendations by you the students. He was a fine researcher working on enzyme mechanisms and metabolism, Advisor of studies to half the students who have studied Chemistry over the last 15 or so years; heavily involved in our outreach programmes through organising School visits especially with ChemBus, and through a yearly meeting to inform school teachers of new developments in Chemistry relevant to teaching. This was attended by 200 people. He enhanced so many people’s lives and I hope we can celebrate this today.

Together with Nigel’s life, we celebrate your success here today, because you’re special. Yes, you and you and you – all of you are very special. Special because you have just been awarded a Degree from and I quote “far and away the best university in the world”.

This is a defining moment. It brings to and end of four or five years of work and study. You may have seen the last times that you will struggle to submit a lab report on time, write an exam, prepare for a tutorial or write a dissertation or thesis. Yet, you have done all these things and done them very successfully so now is the time to celebrate your wonderful achievement.

I hope too, that you have used your time at University well and have managed to take part in sport, enjoyed different clubs, hill walked in this beautiful country, enjoyed the beaches; even played golf and perhaps – if you’re hardy as well as bright – swum in the Castle pool on May Day. You may have met your life partner here as so many others have done (St Andrews is top of that particular league table) but, certainly the chemists amongst you will not have had time to sample daytime television and become expert on anagrams and number games as a result of watching Countdown.

Yet in bringing these things to an end, today marks the opening of many doors. Some of you will continue in the academic life, an option that I found so appealing all those years ago that I am still in it and love it. Others of you will continue with Chemistry or Biology in industry or research institutes, whilst some (I hope only a few) of you will leave your chosen subject behind for glittering careers in banking or politics (we need a few new minds and approaches in those areas) as captains of industry (St Andrews graduates have led such companies as ICI and Scottish Power) as gifted Teachers whom the generations of the future will need to be able to sit where you are today, or in a whole host of positions, which I hope will be fulfilling and lucrative. Whatever you do, I hope that the last years will stand you in good stead and will provide the bedrock on which you will build your career and that you will retain the open mindedness, vision, compassion and fairness that I hope you have developed during your time here.

Please forgive me, new graduates, if I now spend a few moments talking to your parents and supporters.

I know what it feels like. I have twins, a boy and a girl who graduated a couple of years ago from Scotland’s second best university, 50 miles south of here, so I know from first hand experience what each of you has been through. I have had the ’phone calls as deadlines approach and panic sets in. I have listened sympathetically as boy or girl friend troubles have threatened to derail things. I have driven the 50 miles to argue that submitting the essay is in fact a better option than dropping out and I have had calls where the boot is on the other foot, where I have been berated – for example for spending a night on a Park Bench in Nottingham, the gun crime capital of Britain, when I was locked out of the residence where I was supposed to be staying during a conference. The child is father to the man! Finally – yes – I have even had the ’phone calls which start “Daaad?” and finish with a hole in the bank balance the size of the Globe Theatre. But there were also the great moments of joyful success, good grades, fun relationships and finally very good degrees. I was so proud to rejoice with them in their Graduations just as you are today Thank you for the unfailing support you have given today’s graduates.

So, new graduates, today is a day of great celebration. It is a day to forget the bad times and only remember the great successes. Yet I am sure I speak for every one of my colleagues here on the podium and those who taught you who cannot be here today, when I say that for us it is also a sad day. We do the most wonderful jobs in the world. We are always surrounded by young people with their fresh and innovative ways of looking at things. You keep us young and keep our minds open and enquiring. Your presence is a great joy to us. Yet the real sadness of this wonderful arrangement is that we just get to know you well and you leave.

So, I finish with offering you the heartiest congratulations of everyone here, but also a heartfelt request that you never forget St Andrews, that it will always be part of your personal History and that you will manage to come back and see us often over the years. You will always be welcome in the Auld Grey Toun by the Sea.

So many congratulations.

Category University news

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