Graduation Address: Professor Malcolm White

Wednesday 22 June 2016


Vice-Chancellor, ladies and gentlemen.

Every graduation is the culmination of a story in its own right. If you will permit me a short digression, I would like to share mine with you today.

I graduated from Aberdeen University in the summer of 1986. That year was a bad one for the oil industry and there were none of the usual jobs to be had so I resigned myself, quite cheerfully it must be said, to a couple of months mooching around before I began my PhD. My mother, however, had other plans. She quickly found me a job – as a lavatory attendant. I am not sure why I had not considered that possibility myself. In fact, I am not sure you are allowed to say ‘lavatory’ in a graduation address. Anyway, it came to pass that on the morning of my graduation I opened up the ‘facility’, changed into my graduation gear, duly graduated and popped back to lock up at the end of the day.

My point is that for me it was a good day – graduation was more fun than my day job. But I did not appreciate at the time just what it meant for my parents. They missed my graduation – they had mixed up the dates and booked a holiday that they could not cancel. They were devastated to miss it, and at the time I did not really understand why they felt so strongly about it. Finally, now, as a parent, I do.

For our new graduates, this is the culmination of a three, four or five year course, and it feels pretty good. For the parents and loved ones in the back of the hall this is the culmination of more than twenty years that may have occasionally felt like an assault course. For them, it may seem like yesterday that you took your first steps; and let’s face it, most of us arrive at university as children.

And what of the people before you on the stage? We academics are increasingly asked to demonstrate the impact that our work has beyond the academic realm. In other words, what relevance do we as academics have in the real world? And before you rush to answer that, consider the possibility that our biggest impact comes from you – the students who arrive each year as schoolchildren and leave as adults, with an education and the means to make your mark on the wider world.

Graduates, you can feel the pride and pleasure radiating out from your family and friends behind you, and your lecturers in front of you. You are surrounded. Get out of the bubble. Use the skills and knowledge you have gathered in your time here at St Andrews. Get out there and make us all proud.

Thank you.

Professor White is pictured with Rector Catherine Stihler

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