Graduation Address: Professor Russell Morris

Wednesday 30 November 2016


Chancellor, Principal, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Well, we have made it! Our new Principal, Professor Sally Mapstone, has carried out her first St Andrews’ graduation, and survived! I have managed to get this far without spilling anything down this marvellous creation of an academic gown. Proud Mums and Dads have made it this far without shedding too many tears (I hope), and you, the most important people on this special day, have graduated from this august and ancient seat of learning.

Congratulations! It really is a great moment, and you should all feel very proud of the things you have accomplished. Very well done indeed.

In 2004, a singer-songwriter by the name of Bob Dylan stood on this stage exactly as you did today, and collected an honorary degree from this University. This year he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature – as a St Andrews graduate he has not done too badly.

Dr Dylan wrote and recorded a song in the 1960s called The Times They Are A-Changin’. And as I look down upon you all today I cannot help but try and imagine all the exciting changes that will be happening in your lives as you move on from your degrees.

Actually, it reminds me of an old joke about academics – those colourful ranks of berobed folk you see seated behind me – and their attitude to change. It is not a very good joke, but that never stopped me before so here goes.

How many academics does it take to change a light bulb?

Change!? Change? No, no, we do not do any of that here.

As I stand here in a gown whose design has not altered much since medieval times, I am not sure quite where they got that notion!

Actually I cannot help feeling that is a little unfair on my colleagues, as even we have to get used to upheavals in our lives on occasion. I am sure you will have all heard of the massive change on the horizon that will affect not just us here in St Andrews, but all of us throughout the United Kingdom. So far, I think that my colleagues have taken the news pretty well – I haven’t heard a single one of them complain that Mary Berry won’t be joining Paul Hollywood in the new series of the Great British Bake Off.

Of course that is not the only change that will affect us. It says in my script here, in capital letters ‘DON’T MENTION BREXIT’. But of course I am going to have to as this will affect all of us in the UK profoundly over the next generation – precisely at the time when you will all be making your way in the world outside of St Andrews. We are, as the saying goes, cursed to be living in interesting times.

But what of you as individuals? While we will be staying in St Andrews, for you, however, the times they surely are a-changin’. For some of you the change might not be so great. You may be heading off for further study, some of you might even be staying in St Andrews to continue your education – it is after all a very difficult place to leave.

For some of you the change will be somewhat greater. One of the people sitting here today, Sam, a fantastic chemist and one of the nicest people I have ever had the honour to work with, is graduating with a PhD in Chemistry and is, once he has finished that research paper he promised me, hoping to start a new life in Singapore. That’s a proper, big change.

Others among you will have similar plans – off to new lives in exotic places, like Australia and Brazil, Canada and Japan, and for those of who really strike it lucky – Wales… (now you know which part of the world I come from!).

Others of you are heading out to the world of work in Scotland, the UK, and beyond, and I hope that you will all find the stimulating and fulfilling careers that your hard work in the libraries and laboratories of St Andrews during the last few years so richly deserve.

Whatever you do we all wish you the very best for the future.

In these exciting moments in our lives when we do change direction, it is always good to take time and ponder how you will remember your time at St Andrews. One thing is for certain, you definitely won’t remember this speech – nobody ever remembers the address at their graduation. I don’t even remember if there was one or not at mine! But I hope you will remember with pride and with pleasure the times you spent in our lovely town; the people you met who have inspired you to go on and do wonderful things in your future lives; and the lifelong friends you have made who will be there for you through all the times to come. We will of course be delighted to see you all back in St Andrews whenever you visit, which we hope will be often.

You should also think about all the people who have helped you while you have been here. Top of the list are always your family, and we should spare a thought for your parents and guardians today – it is a special day for them too, and I hope they all enjoy it very much.

Tradition has it that, since I brought Bob Dylan up earlier on in this address, I should finish with an uplifting quote from his body of work. Unfortunately, Dr Dylan leant a little towards grumpiness in his song writing and the only happyish tune I know – Hey Mr Tambourine Man – doesn’t really have the gravitas I was hoping for.

So instead, I will finish with a simple fact that will never, ever change.

From today, you will be forever more graduates of the University of St Andrews. Congratulations, you deserve it.

For further information, contact the University of St Andrews press office on 01334 46 2530 or via [email protected].

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