Graduation address – Rev Dr Ian Bradley

Tuesday 21 June 2011

Vice Chancellor, distinguished honorary graduands, ladies and gentlemen.

Today, in case you hadn’t noticed, is the longest day of the year. For those of us who have been at it since Chapel this morning and indeed probably for many of you sitting in this crowded Younger Hall, it certainly feels like it.

In fact in graduation week terms, we are still near the beginning – there are another six ceremonies like this to go before the chapel choir will sing with some feeling and some relief Arthur Sullivan’s great part song the ‘The long day closes’. But even at this relatively early stage of proceedings, I am conscious that I am all that now stands between you and your smoked salmon sandwich and strawberry tartlet, so I will be brief – indeed you will be relieved to hear that four minutes is the allotted span for these addresses.

My first and very pleasant task is to congratulate each and every one of you who has graduated here this afternoon and to welcome you to the great company of St Andrews alumni.

I would also like to say well done to your parents and guardians who have supported you throughout your time here. If I may just give them a word of advice based on my inexperience of two children who graduated a couple of years ago, don’t think that the demands on your chequebook and bank balance are going to get any lighter. And certainly don’t imagine that that you now have an empty spare room that you might even be able to rent out and make a few bob from. If our experience is anything to go by, you are going to find your offspring around the parental home just as much if not more than they were in their student days.

A major reason for this failure to flee the parental nest is of course the grim employment prospects that face many of those graduating today. This is not an easy time to be coming out of University and casting yourself on the job market. Some of you have been fortunate and secured a job. Others will be staying in the higher education system and pursuing further study or research.

For those of you, and I suspect it may be a fair number, who as of now have nothing to go to and are not sure what the future holds, let me offer some thoughts on the subject of waiting. Probably most of you have not had to do too much waiting in your lives – perhaps a few months to hear whether you had got into St Andrews and more recently a few weeks to get the results of your final exams and your degree classification. Our society and our culture is not very keen on waiting – the disastrous credit boom that has played so much havoc with our economy was based on slogans like ‘take the waiting out of wanting’. But the fact is that there are many times when we have to wait – increasingly people are waiting to get married -indeed as the tabloid press kept reminding us one of our better-known graduates of recent years had to wait some time before another even better known graduate finally popped the question to her.

If I may be permitted to turn this address into a sermon for a moment, I would commend to you that great classic of twentieth century Christian spirituality, The Stature of Waiting by W.H. Vanstone, which argues that those who find themselves for whatever reason waiting, passive, and at the mercy of others are in fact closest to Jesus Christ as he was during his own passion when he, too, was waiting on events out of his control. I hope that those who find yourselves waiting in the coming months, for job interviews or openings, may find the stature of waiting with all its frustrations to have its own dignity and meaning.

And in your waiting I hope you that you will ponder and savour your time here in St Andrews, and especially those moments when you lived life to the full, when you encountered friends who may well stay with you for life, when you felt especially elated and alive – perhaps they took place in the cavernous depths of the Raisin or Ma Bell’s or maybe in the more exalted surrounds of the New Hall corridors or Venue One. They may have included more spiritual and silent moments at Compline at St Leonard’s Chapel or on a solitary walk along the West Sands.

These are the experiences, the moments that I hope you will take with you from your time here and that may help keep you going during times of waiting. They provide the special memories that those of us who graduated many years ago still cherish from our own university days.

My final plea this afternoon is addressed not to you who are recent graduands, nor to those of you who are parents, nor to my colleagues sitting behind me but rather it to our financial lords and masters, the members of the recently elected Scottish government who are even now working out the funding settlement for universities in this country over the coming years.

I hope very much that they will decide to value and to properly fund the teaching work of this and other Scottish universities. The emphasis very much these days in higher education is on research, and rightly so in many ways especially in the areas of science and medicine. But teaching and learning in its broadest sense is surely at a heart of a great humane liberal university like this one. It is at the very core of the idea of a University as it was expounded by those two great nineteenth century polymaths, John Henry Newman and John Stuart Mill who differed on so much and yet to agreed so wholeheartedly on this point.

Scotland has always put a high premium on teaching – the figure of the dominie stands at the heart of Scottish life and literature. I recall Alex Salmond standing here at this podium four years ago speaking eloquently about that tradition. I appeal to him now to put those words into action, to bridge the funding gap that has opened up between the Scottish and English Universities because of tuition fees in the latter and to provide the wherewithal for good teaching to remain at the very heart of the mission and the work of this great University.

Waiting and teaching – those are the two activities on whose merits I invite you to ponder as you make your way to the tea tent.

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