Rector installation speeches: Rectorial address

Friday 20 February 2015

Thank you Principal,

It is such an honour to be here today with students, friends, my family, David, Alex and Andrew, my parents, my mother-in-law, my sister, my niece, nephew, Emma and Stuart.

In the European Parliament I normally have one minute of speaking time during our debates.

Today I have the opportunity to luxuriate in fifteen whole minutes and I intend to make every second count.

In the course of seeking inspiration for this speech I discovered two books.

One is a work of fiction and the other is based in fact.

The first is a play by James Bridie entitled What say they?

First published in 1939, it was made into the 1952 comedy farce You’re Only Young Twice.

The play depicts a Rectorial installation in the fictional Scottish university of Skerryvore.

Before reading a copy of the play, which my sister tracked down, the blurb on the internet mistakenly suggested that the new Rector was in fact a young woman.

On reading the play, it became clear that the fictional Lord Rector, Lord Carshennie, was in fact male and an African explorer who was only just being installed after two and a half years.

He was greatly offended to have a tomato thrown at him during his drag and seemed disinterested when forced to have a sherry with representatives of the student body.

I am glad to say that your new Rector has a very different relationship with your student representatives although it would be true to say that I haven’t yet had a sherry with the Sabbatical Officers of the Students’ Association.

The second book was given to me by Dr Gillian MacIntosh, the Executive Officer to the University Court and Senate, during my first Court induction meeting.

The book is entitled Rectorial Addresses delivered at the University of St Andrews 1894-1994 by Douglas Mason.

If ever I need a Mastermind subject I believe I have found my topic.

Well, no pressure, anyway –

JM Barrie, Rudyard Kipling and we even find a few Lord Carshennie equivalents only this time they are not fictional but very real indeed.

There were some curious connections between your 52nd Rector and this book.

The first is Dunfermline where David, Alex, Andrew and I live.

The author, Douglas Mason, was born in Dunfermline and a key speech in his book is made by one of Dunfermline’s most famous sons, Andrew Carnegie, our 14th Lord Rector who served two terms of office from 1901 to 1907.

The book would have not been published if it had not been for the Carnegie Trust who are headquartered in Dunfermline, in the Kingdom of Fife – and thinking of Fife –

The Kingdom of Fife boasts not only Scotland’s first university but also the ancient capital of Scotland as well.

How lucky are we to live in such a Kingdom as this!

The second insight was the fact that our first female Rector, Katherine Whitehorn, was the first ever female to not only hold the position of Rector but to have ever been nominated for the role.

This was in 1982.

It is good to see that things are changing with our first female Principal, a female Rector, a female Rector’s Assessor, gender balanced senior management team and the Royal and Ancient should now accept our Principal as a member – and about time too!

Douglas Mason’s book has served as a constant reminder, as it has journeyed with me to Brussels and Strasbourg and back again, of the responsibility on my shoulders and the importance of today.

It has been an exciting journey since I discovered that I had been elected unopposed to serve as your 52nd Rector.

Twenty years ago I served as President of our Students’ Association and became a member of the University Court.

Donald Findlay was Rector and Struther Arnott was Principal.

Twenty years on it feels like a very different time.

It is such a privilege and honour to serve in a changed capacity but one which still seeks to help and support our student community.

Today I want to focus my speech on the theme of friendship.

I want to talk about new friends and old friends and St Andrews as a unique and special place in terms of international friendship.

In the words of a past Rector, John Cleese – “St Andrews is a friendly place. Personal contact is rife”. I suspect that was a euphemism! – Some things don’t change.

In a small place you are bound to get to know a fair few people – some better than others, but certainly a good number.

“Friend”, what a great word –Redolent with meaning and a concept crucial to human interaction.

Interestingly it is a word which has remained consistent throughout its 1,500 years of known usage.

Germanic in origin, “freond” was the present participle of the verb “freon” – “to love” – a word with an Indo European root.

Its legacy remains with us. We sit here on a Friday, a day whose name is derived from the very word.

“Friend” – a person whom one enjoys mutual affection and regard (with) a sympathiser, helper or patron, a person who is not an enemy – on a political level I liked this definition but as Ann Richards, the second female governor of Texas said, “in politics, your enemies can’t hurt you, but your friends will kill you.” – a regular contributor of money – on that definition – thank you to my parents, who are sitting there, for all the food parcels when I was a student, the treats –  and toilet paper.

And of course everything evolves. The role of women in society and the way we interact.

Take “to friend” someone on Facebook – this is now an expression used and understood across the globe.

I think I am the first Rector to have their own Facebook page which we already make effective use of.

Some might consider the rise of technology and the use of social media as a detriment to society. I remain optimistic that it will lead to openness and friendship.

In any event, it is good to see we are moving the Rector into the realm of social media. No matter one’s opinion, it is a fact of modern life and it is a good way to keep in touch and to make new friends.

New friends is a theme I would like to expand upon.

My story begins with an email which led me to stand here before you today and it is so hard to believe that back in 1991 when I was a Bejant we had no email addresses.

We had no mobile phones, no social media and Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s worldwide web was just six years old.

My first geography essay was submitted hand written.

When we organised SRC meetings our papers went into our pigeon holes just outside the old Students’ Association office – this was a meeting hub and a key place for gossip.

Today the very same pigeon holes on the ground floor in the Students’ Association now seem more of a historic monument, a relic of a time past.

And that was just twenty years ago.

It has been great going back into the revamped Students’ Association building and to see the familiar faces of Sandy, Bruce, Chris, Christine and Dave.

It is the kind of Students’ Association we would have liked to have had back in my day and I am so glad to see the building transformed.

I also like the new addition of the Rector’s Cafe too.

However back to that email.

It was the 30th of September – my sister’s birthday.

It was a busy Brussels week – rushing from meeting to meeting.

Yvonne from my office in Scotland forwarded on this email saying that I should read it but not to let it go to my head – Yvonne never minces her words.

I was intrigued.

The email was from a University of St Andrews student, Annie Newman, the content asked me to consider putting my name forward as Rector and well the rest is now history.

I want to publically thank Annie Newman for sending that email.

I also want to thank Emma Taylor and Tiffany Yates for getting on a bus from St Andrews to Dunfermline with Annie – believe me I know that going by bus from St Andrews anywhere can be a big deal when essay deadlines are looming and events are being organised – to convince me to stand.

It was a transformational soup lunch.

My friends had warned me that it would be good to just check people out before committing to the campaign. Were these people serious, and for real?


I had never seen anything like their organisation, their strategy was something every political party could learn from and I guess a testament to their organisation and campaigning skills was that no-one in the end stood against me.

This was not something we had considered or planned for.

I want to thank the whole campaign team – you know who you are – those people who were prepared to support me, campaign for me and work with me to help the student community.

My campaign stood on accommodation, alumni relations and accessibility.

Already I have directly raised the issue of the poor state of the private rented sector in the town and the unacceptable dampness which many students are living in within this housing stock.

Private landlords need to take greater care of their tenants.

On alumni relations, my inspirational speaker series, of bringing St Andrews alumni back to talk about their experiences, started with the amazing Barbara Woodward, the first female UK Ambassador to China. Her posting starts next week and I am sure we would all send her our best wishes.

On accessibility, on a personal level I have already started drop-in open surgeries and students are already alerting us to problems and sharing issues of concerns.

On making the St Andrews experience accessible more generally, I have been impressed with the various programmes already in place ranging from local school and college partnerships, the Sutton Trust summer programme and our very own Ambassadors.

If a girl from Coltness High School in Wishaw, can attend this University, gain two degrees from this University, become President of the Students’ Association of this University and then twenty years later become the second female Rector of this University, I think St Andrews must be doing something quite special.

Over the past three months I have got to know a whole new generation of students who I would never have had the privilege of knowing if I hadn’t become Rector.

Alistair Moffat, my predecessor, said that this would be the best part of the role and I know he is right.

I have been reminded of the strength of friendships made here, how students make such a difference to a local community, how public service is valued by those who want to go out and make things happen and how lucky this University is to have the calibre and commitment of students from such a variety of backgrounds and experiences.

Which other University would you attend where over a hall dining table there is someone from Motherwell, Cyprus and New York talking about their day?

I witnessed this first hand when invited to University Hall High table to enjoy their Mexican theme night although eating nachos at High Table was an interesting experience. In any event the quality of the food was a far cry from the food David and I encountered in our halls. In fact, David may correct me, but you couldn’t buy a tortilla in Willie Lows, which is now the Tesco on Market Street, back in 1993. How happy am I that things have changed. You even have a salad bar.

Please, please be grateful.

In my day a salad was literally three lettuce leaves (they were counted), half a tomato, two slices of dried cucumber and a sachet of salad cream – I’m pleased things have changed.

Whether it is in hall, through societies or in class friends you make in St Andrews will last a lifetime.

The time you have here will never be repeated.

Students please value each other, value this precious time you have with your friends living a street apart rather than a continent.

The people I have had the privilege to spend time with and get to know in the past three months are new friends but we will be friends for life.

Their energy, enthusiasm and can-do positivity is a breath of fresh air for a fourth term politician who is now in her middle age but inside still feels like the third year International Relations student of her youth.

Throughout your life you will encounter new people, make new friends.

Always be open to that opportunity.

This journey into adulthood which begins at university for the majority of you is a continuous journey of learning and reflection.

Be open, be wise and most of all enjoy your life – life is for living – but be thoughtful in your actions.

Believe you me you don’t want to turn round twenty years from now and say “If only I…”

Turning now to old friends, and some of them are here today, although we don’t really feel that old, do we?

I don’t know if it’s accurate, but it sounds about right that St Andrews produces a lot of couples who get married.

Like many other students who are far more famous than me,

I met my husband David here.

David proposed to me in our flat across the street from the Students’ Association, on the stroke of midnight between the old millennium and the new.

Whereas I moved from Wishaw in North Lanarkshire to study here David crossed a continent, and an ocean, journeying from California to study in Scotland.

That was such a brave and life changing decision.

Although when your long hair froze as you walked to your English lecture on a frosty dark January morning there were moments when you thought – what have I done?

When I met David, 10% of the student community were from the US.

Today, 24% of Americans who choose to study in the UK, choose to study at St Andrews.

This is remarkable and touches on a very ‘special’ relationship this University has with America.

I am eternally grateful for these wonderful connections and also to the recruitment officer from St Andrews who spoke at York School because my life would have been somewhat different if David had not made the journey east.

Whilst I am touching on old friendships, American friendships and university connections, I want to mention the importance of the Bobby Jones Scholarship.

Bobby Jones was a remarkable golfer who won, as an amateur, a record series of titles.

Although I was not a Bobby Jones scholar myself, my friend Liz who is here today, Jacqui the second female President of the Students’ Association and Jenny Marra now shadow minister for health in the Scottish Parliament all were such scholars.

My first ever trip to America was to Atlanta to visit Liz at Emory University. The exchange part of the scholarship was Keri Eisenbeis. Keri couldn’t be here today but she is here with us in spirit.

Keri and Liz overlapped at Emory for a week and Liz gave Keri strict instructions to look out for me as I was helping with overseas weekend at Andrew Melville Hall before term started.

It was the first night over dinner. Keri and I knew immediately who we were and we have been best friends ever since.

Keri now serves on the board of the scholarship programme in Atlanta and is living in Tampa in Florida.

When the Atlanta Olympic Games were on in 1996, Liz stayed on in Atlanta and Keri went back to Atlanta to run an Olympic village and I got to stay with them on campus at Emory that summer.

It was an amazing and unforgettable experience.

It has been great to meet the new Bobby Jones scholars living in Deans Court, and I hope that these connections between St Andrews and Emory through the remarkable Bobby Jones whose memory lives on will continue to flourish.

Friendships make St Andrews.

It truly is the “friendship” university.

International, outward looking, with students committed to public service, their community and caring for each other.

Is that not what defines ‘friendship’?

A care for others, a respect for the individual and a delight in seeing the other person grow into the person which they want to become.

But this is the power of St Andrews

The power to make a difference,

The power of the possible,

The power to be the best person you can be and the space and freedom to make this happen.

Being a small and intimate university allows societies to grow, ideas to flourish and a place of change whilst keeping our 602 years of history and tradition alive and relevant today.

In the particular moment in time, when you study here, the friendships you make will last a lifetime, but the experience of having these very people in this place for a set time marked by a university calendar, separated by a summer and a Christmas break, will never ever happen again.

It is that moment in time, those four years, as an undergraduate, you live along these three key streets.

The town is your community.

Your friends make this place and space, bounded by the time of being a student, this experience will remain with you for the rest of your life.

Please don’t forget how lucky you are to have the people around you who care about you, who want you to succeed, who support you no matter what and who will from time to time let you down but you will forgive them because that is what friendship means.

No matter what, you are there for each other, through good times and bad, through the rough and the smooth through the pain and the joy.

Friendships here never leave, gather dust, or are empty or frail, they are what will sustain you through life.

Friendships made here carry on through life’s great journey.

Value them,

Nourish them,

Protect them,

And never forget where they came from.

Thank you.

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