Graduation address – Professor Nik Ruskuc

Friday 30 November 2012

Chancellor, Ladies and Gentlemen, but above all: new Graduates.

Congratulations! This is your big day, crowning months and years of hard work. You have measured yourself up against one of the best seats of learning in the world, and you have come through with flying colours.

Today you will celebrate in style, and tomorrow you will be on your way again. You will go far, I know. So this is a farewell. One of the good, happy kinds. One that expresses hope that we, you and St Andrews, will meet again. Hope, obviously but perhaps more than hope, a certainty. Let us make it even more, during your time here, have we, St Andrews and you, not become a part of one another? If yes, I would like to appeal to you to carry St Andrews with you, in you, wherever you go.

How is this to be done? Memories of course. For instance, think of your favourite teacher, think of what they did: clear words; new insights; patience; encouragement. Think what they thought you: to hear; to ask; to see; to think; to be critical, but respectful. And slowly something else should dawn on you; they taught you how to teach.

So that’s it. You will go different ways, you will do different things, and you will teach others: pupils; students; strangers; junior colleagues; your children. There is no avoiding it: that is what we do. So whenever you meet a pair of bright eyes thirsting for knowledge, tell them about St Andrews, about your time here and about us, your teachers. That is how we will truly meet over and over again.

A bright farewell but looking forward to new meetings. It is possible, the books prove it. For example, when Odysseus begs to be allowed to proceed home to Ithaca:

They all applauded his speech and agreed that the stranger should be escorted home, for he had talked good sense.

And when Mr Leopold Bloom, the 20th century Odysseus, takes leave of Stephen Dedalus:

Standing perpendicular at the same door and on different sides of its base, the lines of their valedictory arms, meeting at any point and forming any angle less than the sum of two right angles.

(Apologies: this had to happen when you asked a mathematician to speak to you.)

So that’s it: wise words and a handshake. The former have been spoken throughout between your teachers and yourselves and I would like you to take the whole of today as one long, heartfelt handshake.

Have a safe journey.

Professor Nik Ruskuc
School of Mathematics and Statistics

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