Rector installation speeches: Loyal Address by the President of the SRC Patrick Mathewson

Friday 20 February 2015

Vice-Chancellor, Rector, members of the University Court, distinguished academics, colleagues and fellow students;

There is a hidden strength to St Andrews.

It cannot be found in league tables, in headline grabbing galas, or in royal romance.

And while these brightly coloured robes and silly hats are splendid, it is not seen in the pomp and ceremony that fills this occasion.

But is all around us.  It sits in quiet bedrooms and at littered desks.  It walks through ancient corridors, and down well-worn cobbled streets.  It surrounds you at this very moment.  It is as old as the tower that has lanced our Scottish sky for the last six centuries.   It is as reliable as the waves that crash against the cliff side.

But it is quiet, invisible.  Much like the ancient bells that hang nearby, there is a time and place for its song.  It seldom receives the same attention as our academic prowess and other talents.  But it is what makes us much more than a wet rock on the edge of the North Sea.

This is the story of our community.  Of a complicated, a strange, a frequently bizarre meeting of people from all four corners of the world, from countless backgrounds and walks of life.  It is the story of their friendship, their kindness, and the lengths they will go to for one another.

There is a true story, from several years ago, of a young man who arrived in St Andrews.  He had overcome everything the world could throw at him to sit in this very room.  He had grown up in seven different foster homes, and arrived here with little more than the clothes on his back.  Paying no deference to his past but rather his simple earned right to be here, he was placed in one of the best rooms in Sallies.  And, as luck would have it, in a story only befitting St Andrews, he was allocated a roommate – a count, from Switzerland.

This unlikely duo grew to be close friends, spending much of those early days together.  And when the holidays came around, with no home to return to, the young man was invited back to the chateau to spend Christmas with the count and his family.  This alone would be a heartwarming story, had it not been for the other 40 invitations he received that Christmas.

There is a hidden strength to St Andrews.

Years ago, when 9/11 struck just as the term was about to begin, large numbers of overseas students were left stranded, many of who had been en-route to St Andrews at the time.  With flights scarcely available, news of fellow St Andreans in need spread quickly.  And it was answered in droves.  Word was sent out, that if you could make it to UK soil, they would bring you home.  Professors, janitors, cleaners, cooks all volunteered to take care of our own, driving countless hours often in the middle of the night to pick up marooned students. They offered a shelter amidst chaos, and compassion when it was needed most.

There is a hidden strength to St Andrews.

But one does not need to delve deep into our past to see it.  Weeks ago, no sooner than word spread that a student was missing, did hundreds lend their hands to the search.

The strength of our community is often invisible, lying dormant, awaiting some of our darkest hours and most challenging days. Few things are more emblematic of this strength than the role of Rector.  More often than not, they are a hidden advocate, frequently out of the limelight serving those students on the margins who need it most.

It says something special about our University, that it believes so much in this strength that it can be entrusted and tasked with choosing the person at the very top of our institution.

Catherine Stihler has served St Andrews across the last 20 years, first as President of the Students’ Association and now as our Rector.  But it is clear there is much more than a sense of duty that ties her to the place.  For Catherine, St Andrews is not only a place of scarlet gowns and shaving foam, but of wedding bells.  She met her husband David here, who was also a sabbatical officer.  And there is no coincidence from where their son, Andrew, gets his name.  She is without a doubt, one of our own.

I’ve been told that no St Andrews speech is complete without some poetry.  So to mark your return, this is for you, Rector:

Atop a cliff not made with hands,

Betwixt the east and western sands,

Rises an old and ancient spire,

To mark the place where souls catch fire,

Home t’was once and shall be again,

My dear beloved, my ancient friend,

Hasten back, I shall not tire,

To the place where souls catch fire.

Vice-Chancellor, members of the University Court, distinguished academics, colleagues and fellow students;

Catherine, it is my greatest honour not only to give this loyal address, but to give it to someone who has been so loyal to us.

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