Popular legend has it that during a visit to NASA in 1961, President John F. Kennedy came across a janitor working late, mopping floors.

“What are you doing working at this hour?” JFK inquired.

“Mr President, I’m putting a man on the Moon,” was the proud reply.

We may not be blasting anyone into orbit (although it might feel like it), but in St Andrews this summer, many of us can identify with that janitor.

Everyone who works for the University of St Andrews, whether they clean, teach, research, organise, cook, examine, serve, support or lead, has, in some way, been integral to the Herculean effort which sent 5090 graduates across the stage of Younger Hall in June 2022.

“Everybody here has put so much work into making this an utterly special experience for all our graduates. I’m proud of our graduates and I’m proud of all staff and the many different ways they’ve contributed to making this occasion as fabulous as it has been.”

Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Dame Sally Mapstone DBE FRSE, speaking during graduation celebrations

Graduation is the highlight of the University year. Here we look at some of the behind-the-scenes work, and hitherto unsung heroism, which made possible three remarkable, never-before-attempted weeks of celebration for our students, their friends and their families.

You can also see some of this work in action on our Instagram story highlights, filmed during Week Two of graduation.

With bells ringing and sun shining, on Monday 13 June, St Salvator’s Quad was filled with graduates for the first time since 2019. The piper played, the maces gleamed, and families and friends held cameras, phones and the occasional iPad high to catch their graduates as they spiralled round the lawn.

The lawn on which, two summers ago, 35 socially distanced hearts had been painted so that students could meet safely outdoors, as a pandemic virus all but paralysed normal life.

In a brief respite from Covid before Omicron hit, the University was able to hold Winter graduations in the Sports Centre while the Younger Hall was upgraded, but for two summers the Quad was almost empty. No bells, no pipes, no services of thanksgiving. Grass grew in the cracks of pavements in St Andrews, the doors of Younger Hall stayed shut, degrees were conferred online.

In February 2021, still in the midst of Covid, Professor Dame Sally Mapstone DBE FRSE, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, made a promise to hold in-person graduation ceremonies not only for the Class of 2022, but also for the Classes of 2020 and 2021, students who had been denied that rite of passage by successive summer lockdowns.

Over the last three weeks, the University of St Andrews has delivered that promise, and with some style.

26 ceremonies. 12 days. 5090 students from more than 80 countries. 22 honorands. 15 garden parties. Seven Principal’s Medals. Four pipers. 88,002 fudge doughnuts and pastries.

What cannot be counted or measured so easily is the effort, dedication and commitment shown by teams and individuals from across the University to fulfil the promise and ensure the ceremonies and celebrations were everything our graduates expect and deserve, and more.

The complex logistics of graduation require months of advanced planning in any year. Let’s triple that. And throw in a newly refurbished building for good measure. If Covid has shown us anything, it’s that our community here at the University of St Andrews is resilient, resourceful, adaptable, and creative.

That the Younger Hall refurbishment was completed by our Estates team just days, if not hours, before the ceremonies began set the tone for the task of delivering this bumper set of celebrations.

It was a pretty close call. Our Vice-Principal (Education), who led the Younger Hall refurbishment project board, had an app on her phone which allowed her to track the movements of the ship delivering the 900-plus new seats ordered for the Hall.

As Spring turned to Summer in St Andrews, the Principal’s Office Whatsapp group was treated to regular shipping forecasts and progress reports (“They’ve docked in Amsterdam!”) as the lorry carrying the seats made its last-minute dash north to Fife.

As well as planning for the re-opening of this key University building, our Trades and Logistics teams spent the months leading up to graduation organising and coordinating the delivery and installation of the marquee on Lower College Lawn, ensuring access ramps were in place and accessibility was taken care of. Meanwhile, the Grounds team was busy planting and preparing boxes and borders to make sure campus would look its best just as our guests arrived.

The central cog in the complex machine was the Graduation Office team, led by Dr Fiona Thompson, Executive Officer to the Office of the Principal. As the name suggests, the Graduation Office team does exactly what it says on the tin, taking care of (amongst many other things) running orders, organising and coordinating honorary graduates, planning each ceremony in its finest detail, and giving calm, experienced support and leadership to what could otherwise become three weeks of mayhem.

They work closely with Registry to record each graduand’s attendance, ticket allocation and paperwork requirements. They handle queries about what to wear, where to pick up tickets for garden parties and how to order extra guest tickets. They smooth over eleventh-hour hiccups and soothe last-minute panics.

They also liaise with Publications and Print and Design, the teams that produce the ceremony programmes, tickets, orders of service, degree certifications and transcripts and the specially designed celebration certificates for the Classes of 2020 and 2021.

The Younger Hall was handed back to the University by contractors on Saturday 11 June. Our Cleaning crews spent hours preparing the hall for the imminent arrival of the first guests, while the IT/AV teams set up camp in the gallery, installing the tech that would allow livestreaming of all ceremonies as well as ensuring all in the hall could hear the proceedings – microphones, cameras, sound desks and speakers.

At dawn each day, grounds staff were watering, sweeping, raking, tidying, weeding and caring for the lawn, borders and boxes not only in the quad, but also outside the hall, in and around the marquee and across campus.

Our cleaners also started at daybreak to get the Younger Hall ready for guests. In between ceremonies – three times a day sometimes – they moved in to refresh the hall and the toilets. As if that were not enough, they also staffed the Bag Drop facility at St Salvator’s Hall.

First thing each morning in the marquee, Estates staff rolled in no fewer than seven vacuum cleaners to prepare for each garden party, while daily deliveries were taken of the much-looked forward to mini fudge doughnuts and strawberry tarts from Fisher & Donaldson.

In the kitchens, preparations began early each day for the garden party, as well as the Chancellor’s or Vice-Chancellor’s lunch, where a super tasty buffet was provided by the Catering team from Residential and Business Services for the special guests of graduations.

As the dawn quiet began to recede and the graduands and their families started to arrive, each day there was a Service of Thanksgiving in the University Chapel, beginning at 9.30am, or earlier on the days of three ceremonies.

The Chaplain, the Mace Bearers, the Principal and, on some days, the Chancellor were accompanied by Vice-Principals and academics taking part in the ceremonies, with sermons and prayers providing a moment of peace and reflection before the celebrations began.

At this service, St Salvator’s Chapel Choir gave their first performance of the day, returning to the chapel shortly after the service to warm up and rehearse before singing at the morning ceremony – and again in the afternoon.

From the chapel balcony, the Digi Comms team helped livestream each service via our YouTube channel. Above them in the tower, bellringing volunteers started their first session of many throughout each day with visitors, students, staff and even the Director of Teaching from the School of Medicine taking turns to ring the peals of celebration.

Over at Buchanan Lecture Theatre, members of the graduation team, assisted by Student Ambassadors, were on hand for ticket collection. This was just one role performed by the ambassadors, who also directed graduands and graduates to gown collection, and to the photography sessions at Parliament Hall, as well as directing them to the photo props and ops in the quad – wrestling giant polystyrene letters and numbers, and shields big and small.

Taking care of car parking requirements and providing a visible security presence from dawn to dusk each day were members of the Security and Response team. They also coordinated road closures with local officers from Police Scotland to make sure the academic procession could make its way safely along North Street and into the quad after each ceremony.

As guests arrived at the Younger Hall, they were welcomed at the front doors by members of the Janitorial team, who acted as ushers and security at the hall (and also at the quad, and the garden party marquee). In post before the guests arrived, and there until each venue was closed, their roles didn’t stop there.

Some of the Janitorial team also serve as Mace Bearers, alongside staff from the Mailroom and Security and Response. They practise hard in advance of graduation to make sure they are coordinated and donned their finery early each day: present at each chapel service, each ceremony, each academic procession and then – one of the highlights of graduation – posing for photos with new graduates in the quad.

This year, the first ever female Mace Bearer joined the procession…

Our Deans are in the spotlight, calling out each student’s name as they cross the stage to receive their degree. It’s not widely known that the Deans have worked for weeks to carefully rehearse the exact pronunciations of the names, supplied via recordings at the time of a student’s application to graduate, to make sure they are announced correctly. In a community of 140 nationalities and many different languages, that is no insignificant undertaking.

In the corridors of College Gate, it is not uncommon to find a Dean or three pacing the floor in the early morning or late evening, incanting lists of names.

Ready to place a hood around the neck of every single graduand was the Bedellus who, when not brandishing hoods or Maces, is part of the Estates’ support team.

Supporting the Principal, and the Chancellor, and helping keep both upright through what must have seemed like endless days and nights of ceremonies, garden parties, dinners, receptions, addresses and speeches, are Sally’s Private Office team – Dr Fiona Thompson, Lewis Wood, Executive Officer, Sheona McIntosh, PA to the Principal, and driver, Jim Hedley. At University House, housekeeper Sandra Hayes was responsible for looking after our guests and many of the honorary graduates who came and went over three weeks.

Lewis – who is leaving St Andrews shortly for pastures new – took over our Instagram stories on the final day of graduation to tell the story of graduation from the point of view of the Principal and her team, where Dame Sally shared what is believed to be the first-ever Principal’s procession selfie.

At each ceremony, Graduation Office staff and their volunteers from schools and units across the University were on hand to make sure the graduands, graduates, their family and friends were welcomed and seated and the graduands and graduates themselves were present and in the correct order, guiding them to their seats and handing them their paperwork as they emerged, many as fresh graduates.

Staff from across the University and representatives from the Students’ Association also had a presence in the platform party at each ceremony, and the Rector’s Assessor attended all 26 ceremonies.

After the Benediction, the academic procession and the new graduates made their way to the quad, more often than not led by the Chancellor’s Piper, who even piped his own graduation. In St Salvator’s quad the honorary graduates were photographed by our friends from Tempest and these photos and their paperwork were coordinated by our Publications team and given to the honorary graduates before they left St Andrews.

After celebrating in the quad with family and friends, many of our graduates headed into the Garden Party, where our Alumni and Development teams supplied them with prints of photos they had tagged on social media. This was followed up later the same day with individual clips of the moment each student graduated, emailed to them for posterity.

The Accommodation, Conferences and Events (ACE) teams made sure of a steady supply of fizz and sandwiches – 8100 bottles of fizz and 50,478 finger sandwiches, to be precise.

Meanwhile, our University Shop team were on hand to supply souvenirs and merchandise, while the University String Quartet entertained.

Further afield on campus, members of the ACE team at our halls of residences were busy preparing rooms for the next arrivals of graduands and their families, and getting ready to welcome the graduates back to St Andrews.

There were other events during graduation season, too. Honorand Dr Fiona Hill talked to Professor Stephen Gethins and an audience of staff, students and the public at Buchanan Lecture Theatre following her ceremony; Professor Sir Ian Gilmore gave the annual Dow Memorial Lecture; and Development held events in the museums for which staff prepared and extended opening hours.

All of this was happening as the stories of graduation unfolded – our first medical graduates in more than 50 years, a Scottish footballing legend kicking a giant football across the quad, a former assistant to the President of the United States receiving an honorary degree, friends separated by Covid reunited, twins graduating in astrophysics, dogs joining their owners in their procession, three generations who studied here celebrating together, a member of staff whose family almost didn’t make it to celebrate because of Visa issues… all these stories and many, many more.

(You can read some of these stories in our Class of 2022, Class of 2021 and Class of 2020 round-ups, see the photos on our Instagram and in our Facebook albums, and also hear from the graduates in our YouTube films – 2022, 2021, 2020.)

After not only working remotely, but also going two years without summer graduation, it was easy to wonder if we might have forgotten what to do. Yet all the pieces of the puzzle fitted together perfectly once more, as we all pulled together to become one Graduation Team.

Attempting to demonstrate the breadth and depth of work that goes on across the University to bring graduation to life in 2300 words is almost as bold an idea as staging three consecutive weeks of graduation. Any attempt to highlight unsung heroes and focus on all the hard work going on behind the scenes runs the risk of missing someone.

But, as Sir Kenneth Dalglish, Doctor of Laws, told some of the Class of 2021:

“Success… it’s not an individual sport, it’s a team sport. It was all about us, it wasn’t about me. I think, in life, that’s the way you’ve got to take yourself forward.”

Corporate Communications is grateful to everyone who helped tell the story of Graduation 2022. If there are any teams or individuals we’ve overlooked, however, please let us know: [email protected]