Vice-Chancellor, ladies and gentlemen, and our new graduates. It is an honour to address you on this momentous and happy day. My warmest congratulations to all the new graduates. The completion of your degrees is a great achievement. I think I can say with confidence that all your tutors, friends and, of course, your families are immensely proud of you.
As you sit here in your gowns, waiting to leave this hall to start your futures, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on all the hard work it took for you to get to this point: all those provoking or baffling articles and books you had to read; all those deadlines met (or not), and writers’ blocks you had to overcome; the countless, but always stimulating, tutorials and lectures you attended; the solitary hours in the library; the confusions and epiphanies; the many conversations, from the humorous to the profound; and the intensity of your exams and vivas, perhaps already a distant memory, but all will have shaped and taught you in various ways.
Of course the learning will not just have been in your lectures or at your books. These few years will have been a time of personal challenges and growth too; a time in which you may have had to shoulder other responsibilities and concerns alongside your studies; a time of questioning preconceptions, or of affirming values; and a time of building new and hopefully long-lasting friendships. Dare I say it, these years may have even been a lot of fun!
These reflections also inspire gratitude towards the many people who supported you during your time at St Andrews, whether in obvious or imperceptible ways: your fellow students; those sitting on the stage behind me, your tutors; administrators; the librarians, Estates staff, cleaners and caterers; and the local people of the town. But especially deserving of recognition are your families, particularly your parents or guardians, whose devotion, sacrifices and investment towards your success and happiness extends far beyond your years at St Andrews – your degrees are very much their achievement too, and our warmest thanks to them.
Cherish all your university experiences, the good and the tough parts. But also know that there is so much more to discover about yourselves, your fellow human beings, and the world at large. Know too that you have so much to give. It can be daunting, leaving the familiarity of full-time education behind you (though no doubt some of you will be back!), but relish the exciting possibilities ahead of you.
I leave you with five short pieces of advice as you start this new chapter in your lives.
One: Do not be afraid to have big dreams – do not underestimate your worth, your skills, your mind, and never sell yourself short.
Two: As a great teacher of mine always used to say: “You won’t get anywhere without hard work.” Luck, privilege and networking may serve some people some of the time, but these things will not provide the sincere, joyful fulfilment that you get after putting in the hard work.
Three: Yes, it is good to have a plan – but the world will not end if you do not know exactly what comes next. Sometimes you may have a clear vision, but sometimes you need time to find your path. Be open to learning from others’ examples, but do not be distracted by what everyone else is doing: cultivate your own story, your own contribution, and do not panic – it will be alright!
Four: Have hope in the face of adversity. It is through adversity that you become stronger and wiser. Things may not always go well, but the way you respond to apparent failures, disappointments and difficulties will make all the difference. A closed door in one direction may mean a door opening in another (if you are willing to see it) – often one you might never have considered otherwise. So muster your perseverance and optimism to turn such moments into opportunities.
And five: Treat people well, with respect and fairness. Not just your friends, not just those like you, not just those who agree with you, but everyone. As you leave the bubble of St Andrews, you will meet a great many people from even more diverse backgrounds than you have encountered here. Embrace difference, and indeed embrace disagreement, as things that in fact enrich us all. Do not underestimate the value of kindness and give it freely, even if it be through a simple word or a smile. Great people have a belief in, and attitude of, abundance, not of scarcity or fear. You have nothing to lose from such an attitude, and much to gain, so strive for that greatness.
With that I will close. I hope you have a wonderful and memorable day: enjoy sharing it with your families and all those who travelled with you on this journey. I wish you all the very best for the future, and well done!
Pictured (from left) are Rector & President of University Court Catherine Stihler, Acting Principal & Vice-Chancellor Garry Taylor, Honorand Professor Herman van Rompuy and Dr Gani of the School of International RelationsUniversity news