Graduation address – Professor Katherine Hawley

Saturday 30 November 2013

Vice-Chancellor, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Since my address is one of the few remaining things keeping you from your celebrations, I promise to be brief. I don’t think I can review six hundred years of history in just three minutes, so I’ll keep the focus on today.

Graduates, today is your special day, a moment to pause, to reflect, and to celebrate all you have achieved. After all, getting to St Andrews in the first place is something to celebrate, and not just because the train station has apparently entered a witness protection scheme, moving five miles away and adopting an assumed name. And successfully completing your course, becoming a master or a doctor in your chosen field, has required talent, hard work, determination, a bit of luck, and a lot of help.

Take the opportunity today to pause and thank those who have helped make you the master or doctor you now are: your family and friends, those who are here with us in St Andrews, and those who may be watching around the world. Reflect on those people throughout the university without whom none of this would be possible: the cleaners and janitors, secretaries and accountants, librarians and gardeners who keep this complex institution alive. We academic staff celebrate here with you, recognising the centrality of your contributions to our intellectual community. I am particularly fortunate to have two of my Ph.D. students graduating here today – they have helped me to learn, to understand, to broaden my knowledge of our shared discipline. Together we have puzzled over the nature of spatiotemporal dimensions, the difference between deep and superficial disagreements, and the relationship between science and philosophy. So I’ll briefly abuse the privilege of this podium to be the first to say: congratulations, Dr Porro and Dr Walker-Dale!

As a philosopher, I can’t resist a few musings on this shared process of knowledge-generation and knowledge-transmission. Whilst I hope that your heads feel stuffed full of information – even if your bellies are starting to pang for lunch – that information is truly knowledge only because of your place in a great inter-connected network of other scholars and practitioners, readers and thinkers, both within the academy and far outwith its boundaries. No-one can check out everything personally: we must all rely upon the word of others, tempered by a little healthy scepticism, and others must rely upon us. With the education and experience you have gained at St Andrews, you now have a special responsibility to that network: you must play a full part in maintaining, testing, and reworking the knowledge we share, and we must all do what we can to expand the network, to help others participate in the extraordinary epistemic privilege we are fortunate to have. Tell someone something new; listen, and you will learn something new in return.

After six hundred years, we are still only scratching the surface of what we can learn together if we speak freely and listen carefully: you have the rest of your lives to dig a little deeper. But you can’t do that on an empty stomach, so it’s time for me to stop. Thank you.

Professor Katherine Hawley
School of Philosophical, Anthropological and Film Studies

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