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Principal’s graduation address – 23rd June 2005

University of St Andrews Graduation Address 23 June 2005

by Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Dr Brian Lang

Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, Chancellor, ladies and gentlemen, graduates of the University of St Andrews –

It is a great honour, and it gives me great pleasure, to see you here today, especially those of you for whom this rite of passage represents a culmination of several years’ hard work and application. It may seem like no time at all since you arrived here. However, compared with your apprehensive and expectant arrival, you leave here today as quite different people, having experienced four years at the University of St Andrews.

My colleagues and I always thoroughly enjoy graduation ceremonies. They are celebration of four years’ effort in seeing an extraordinary variety of people successfully through their degree courses – this year from seventy countries and with the widest possible range of backgrounds. Graduation also gives whoever is delivering the graduation address, as I am doing now, with the opportunity to be sanctimonious. So here goes.

First of all, I hope in your careers ahead you will take risks. I want the self-confidence you have learned in St Andrews to help you stretch your personal capabilities to the utmost. So do not be afraid to make mistakes, bearing always in mind that to make a mistake is not to fail. On the contrary, not only will you learn from such mistakes but they are a sign that you are trying very hard to achieve whatever is your objective.

Secondly, I hope you will always be good mannered. I do not mean good manners only in the conventional sense of prompt thank you letters and nice handshakes but more generally, in how you treat your surroundings whatever those may be. What I mean is that you should always be respectful of those surroundings, whether they consist of other people, historic buildings or our precious physical and climatic environment. Do not take any of these things for granted, nor treat them in any way that will harm their right to healthy life.

And I hope you will always be positive in your outlook on life and give a positive example in whatever you do and say. Remember that Martin Luther King would most likely not be remembered for having declared “I have a nightmare.¿

And lastly, I hope you will be grateful. I hope you will be grateful to everyone who has helped you through your degree course at St Andrews. Whatever careers you follow, some of the most formative years of your lives will have been spent here. My colleagues and I have done all we can to give you a setting which has permitted you to be creative while being disciplined, and hardworking while also making the most of an active social life. We have helped you become, I hope, well-educated international adult citizens. We have made you work hard, but always given you the opportunities to play hard and through all of that, explore the mysteries that are your own personalities.

Today’s graduates have experienced the University of St Andrews during a period in which we have been very successful. Independent judges tell us that we are doing well. Now we in St Andrews are much too grand to regard newspaper league tables of university performance with anything other than lofty disdain – unless we are doing well in them. But we do well. We are the only Scottish university consistently to be placed in the United Kingdom top ten. We are in the middle of the biggest capital investment programme in our history, the first parts of which are a wholly rebuilt student hall of residence, and a new building for the School of Management. Yesterday afternoon, I cut the first sod for a construction project for a new Arts Faculty building in the centre of town.

Let me return to our primary reasons for being here today, which is to congratulate all of you who are graduating and to wish you good fortune in the lives that face you, wherever and whatever that may be. You will always remember your time at St Andrews. You will have made life long friends. You may have met your husband or wife. Our title as the top match-making university in Britain signifies so much that is good about St Andrews, so we rely on you to go forth from St Andrews and multiply – but in the positive sense that I earlier urged you to adopt.

We will try to stay in touch with you and I hope you will let us know where you are as you move on through life. You will always remember your time here – the nerve stretching effort to finish an essay, sitting up all night revising before exams. You will always be able to taste those great bacon rolls from the Old Union Diner. You will remember Ma Bells and the West Sands, you will remember the exquisite comfort of our ultra-modern lecture theatres. You will probably not remember the Monday morning after Raisin Weekend. But remember, please, your professors, lecturers, janitors and cleaners and all the staff here. We will never forget you; we will always appreciate that St Andrews is a different and better place for your having been here among us. And come back to visit us. St Andrews is very special place and you will always be part of us. It has been our great pleasure to enjoy your company. Remember St Andrews always with affection and very great pride. Good luck to all of you.

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