It has been almost three years since the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge returned to St Andrews in February 2011 to launch the University’s 600th anniversary celebrations – and what a three years it has been. We’ve had a non-stop series of events: everything from a film narrated by James Bond to an international cycle ride.
In the first major event of the celebrations, former prime minister Gordon Brown gave a talk to kick off a special guest lecture series that ran throughout the anniversary. The series later featured guest speakers including Louis Susman, then US ambassador to the United Kingdom, and Sir David Attenborough.
April saw the University choose the official anthem of the 600th campaign by holding a competition for young composers, and in June it launched the 600th anniversary retail store on the corner of Market Street to help raise both awareness and funds.
Flash forward to May 2012 and we saw the Scottish premiere of Ever to Excel, the specially produced film about St Andrews directed by Murray Grigor and narrated by Sir Sean Connery. (It will be screened on BBC Scotland this Saturday evening for those who haven’t seen it.)
In October 2011 the Hongpao Society, with support from the Students’ Association as part of its newly launched Your600th campaign, organised a human coat of arms in St Salvator’s Quad. Your600th ran for a year to raise funds for a new £30,000 bursary.
That November was the anniversary appeal dinner at Middle Temple Hall, London, where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge once more stepped in to encourage fundraising and donations. Soon after, St Paul’s Cathedral hosted a special ceremony of thanksgiving to mark the 600th.
In summer 2013 the University organised six teams of six cyclists to re-trace the journey of the papal bulls, the documents issued by Pope Benedict in 1413 to officially found the University. The teams – one of which was led by the principal, Louise Richardson – cycled from Peniscola, where Pope Benedict lived at the time in 1413, to St Andrews, covering up to 70 miles each day for a week.
That was soon followed by the recent weekend-long academic celebration, with guest lectures and the honorary graduation ceremony featuring Hillary Clinton, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Dame Jane Goodall, Rowan Williams and many more. The weekend closed with a fireworks display over the harbour.
At MUSA, meanwhile, an exhibition of mediaeval maces provided a unique opportunity to view the University’s three maces from the 15th century alongside seven others from across Europe, and Pope Francis even sent his “cordial greetings” to mark the anniversary.
Today, the University has garnered almost £40 million of its £100 million target and intends to continue fundraising for some time yet. The rest of the celebrations will culminate this weekend, however, with a string of events including the official switch-on of the town’s festive lights, an outdoor ceilidh in the Quad, the 600th Finale Ball organised by the Fellowship and, finally, a 600th anniversary concert on Sunday evening.
The 600th anniversary has been a quite marvelous celebration and it will be strange to see it end, particularly for those students whose time in St Andrews has allowed them to experience the whole three years. From The Saint, then, here’s to the next 100 years.