Graduation Address: Dr Jon Hesk
Chancellor, ladies and gentlemen
My address is one of the few remaining things keeping you all from your celebrations, so I will try to be quick. Indeed, as a Classicist, I am reminded of some advice proffered by Cicero. He once wrote that ‘brevity in the expression of an opinion is a great virtue on the part of a public speaker’ (De Legibus III.40). To be perfectly frank, this great Roman politician and lawyer did not always practise what he preached on this matter. But where your average ancient oration was something of a marathon, I hereby promise you the rhetorical equivalent of a sprint.
Graduates:I congratulate you! Today is your special day and it is a day on which you should all be deeply proud of what you have achieved. You have all gained your degree through hard work, determination, and the cultivation of considerable intellectual talents. You have explored and adopted new and challenging ways of thinking. And you have developed the skills to go out into the world and make a valuable contribution with confidence and independence of mind. Your degree is a recognition of your advanced learning and excellent capabilities. It is a sign that you now have what it takes to do complex and rewarding work. Your degree was not gifted to you. Nor was it sold to you as a commodity, despite the considerable costs which student life now incurs! You have earned this and you deserve it. And while graduation ceremonies are often described as rites of passage, that analogy should not be taken to imply that you have achieved something routine, easy or short-lived.
But if today is mainly about what you graduates have achieved, it is also an opportunity to pause and thank those who have supported you during your time here. You will all have had moments when you drew strength, advice and much-needed entertainment from your family and friends, both those who are here with us in St Andrews, and those who may be watching around the world. As a father and an uncle myself, I hope you graduates will take some time today to appreciate all the love, care and worrying that your families have lavished upon you. As for friendships, well several Greek and Roman philosophers rightly argued that a productive, happy and virtuous life is impossible without them. The friends you make at school and university can be friends for life and in my experience these friendships are profoundly rewarding and sustaining as you all grow older and more foolish together. As a now little-known ‘indie’ rock band from my own student days once sang, ‘you should always keep in touch with your friends’.
Please also reflect, with gratitude, on those people throughout the University without whom none of this would be possible: the cleaners and janitors, administrators and accountants, the technicians, librarians and gardeners who keep this complex institution alive.
We, the academic staff, celebrate here with you, recognising the centrality of your contributions to our intellectual community. We may not always show our appreciation for this, but you help us to learn, to understand, and to broaden our knowledge of our shared disciplines. And in turn, we hope that whatever you do during the rest of your lives, you will find some time to stay in touch with us and with your academic subjects – perhaps even to dig a little deeper into them. But you cannot start to do that on an empty stomach, so it is time for me to stop.
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