The graduation ceremony was the jewel in the crown of the 600th events. Tickets were in high demand, as everyone wanted a seat to see Hillary Clinton. Although it was clear that she was the star of the show, we were left in awe at the achievements of the other honorary graduates. Every graduand had an extraordinary story and even the less well-known names are truly inspiring figures.
Guests entered the hall around 14:00 and with the ceremony not due to begin until 14:30, the excitement built in Younger Hall as we waited for the academic procession to arrive. The distant sound of bagpipes told the audience that the procession was on their way.
The ceremony of the occasion was probably one of the most enjoyable aspects as it highlighted our sense of history and tradition. Some of the ceremony was conducted in Latin, including the traditional graduation song Gaudeamus, which was sung as the procession entered the hall. The magnificent medieval maces that are carried in the procession have been used in graduation ceremonies for almost 600 years, while the cap that is used to confer degrees upon graduands was bought for the graduation of Sir John Arbuthnot in 1696. Most undergraduates don’t experience a graduation ceremony other than their own and will be unaware of these ceremonial traditions, so it was an excellent opportunity for students both new and old to get involved with more of the University’s more serious, academic traditions.
Sir Menzies Campbell, chancellor of the University, welcomed everyone to the event and read two very important letters that reminded us of the prestige that St Andrews has gained over the last 600 years. One letter was from Pope Francis and the other had a slightly more personal tone as it was from one of our most famous alumni, Prince William, or William Wales as he was known during his time in St Andrews.
Professor Louise Richardson then gave a fitting tribute to the rich history of St Andrews and put in to perspective how remarkable it is that the University has survived for six centuries. She said: “600 years is a very long time. How many institutions can you think of that have been around that long? How many organisations, companies, governments? Not many.
“We were founded before the printing press, before the battle of Agincourt, before the construction of the Forbidden City in Beijing, before the construction of Machu Picchu in Peru, before Columbus arrived in the Americas, before Joan of Arc waged battle.”
Sir Menzies then called upon each laureate to give their address. The 18 honorary graduates came from a mix of fields, and it was incredibly inspiring to hear how they have and will continue to achieve great things in their lives. For example, ethologist and conservationist Dr Jane Goodall is approaching her 80th birthday and is still on the road for 300 days a year as she is heavily involved in conservation work. It was very humbling to say the least.
Each graduand was given the opportunity to speak, and many of them said a few words thanking the University for the honour while some used it as an opportunity to voice their opinions. Mary Beard, for example, spoke out about the abuse against women from trolls on twitter and her desire to keep the study of classics alive.
The ceremony was split up into sections with St Salvator’s chapel choir treating the audience to some music during each interlude. There were also many jokes and lighthearted moments that kept the audience entertained despite the three hour long ceremony. From a few jokes about the royal wedding during Rowan William’s address, the occasional slip of the tongue and Dr Jane Goodall’s attempt to speak chimpanzee with the help of Professor Whiten, there were many moments of laughter amongst the guests, which made for an enjoyable event.
The climax of the event came with Hillary Clinton’s graduation address. As she took to the stage, the hall was filled with the click of cameras. Her mention of various St Andrews traditions, including the numerous raisins she brought in case someone was looking to take on another daughter, were appreciated by the audience and left a light-hearted tone amongst the crowd, but her message was a serious one. She focused on discussing the achievements of her fellow honorary graduates and looking to the future. “You and your light are the hope and resource of our world in the coming generations,” Clinton said.
In closing, she noted the many accomplishments of the university over the past 600 years and the honour bestowed upon her and the graduands on stage for being included in the 600th Anniversary. Finally, she left a hope and a challenge that St Andrews will continue to “be a place of learning, a place of ferment, a place of excitement that will be looked back on in years to come as one of the engines of the kind of changes our young people and our world so richly deserve.”
Photo Credit: Maria Faciolince