Mermaids president David Patterson reflects on his past four years at St Andrews

David Patterson with the Mermaids committee: "The most challenging and rewarding part of my time here"
David Patterson with the Mermaids committee: "The most challenging and rewarding part of my time here"
David Patterson with the Mermaids committee: “The most challenging and rewarding part of my time here”

Term is drawing to a close. I’ve submitted my last coursework for the year and now there are only two exams between me and graduation, and then the world is my oyster.

Well, it may well be my oyster but first I have to open the thing… but they don’t teach you how. I asked a tutor the other day if he had any life advice. He shrugged, rubbed his face – visibly aging as he did so – and sighed: “Don’t let the bastards get you down.”

That’s the kind of optimism we love in a teacher. So now there is me, a vague sense of direction and some drive. But where to drive to? In what direction, for how long?

They don’t teach you these things. But I know that I’m ready to face reality – that’s what St Andrews has taught me. I didn’t exactly feel it happen but it’s left me ready.

My eldest brother is 12 years older than I am; he’s a mature student at Glasgow. He’s serious and unsentimental, whereas I have enough sentimentality to drown in my own tears.

We’ve often discussed what the point of university is – he doesn’t really credit all the hours we sink into sports clubs, societies, student politics and events. He sees it as rather frivolous. I suppose he would; he freely admits he ‘got it all out of his system’ before he went. I still disagree. Fiercely.

What we learn from university goes far beyond the content of our lectures, our reading, and our essays.

What we learn as students, both of our subject and of life, is invaluable. We get that from all the extra things we do: from all the causes that inspire us to action and from the hobbies and pastimes we devote our spare hours to. We learn invaluable skills from participating in the varied and vibrant society that St Andrews offers us.

I find myself growing increasingly reflective about my time here. I’m caught between a real desperation to get out into the real world, and seriously wondering if life will ever be as good as it has these past four years. I’ve loved my time here, and I’ve grown so much that really I’ve learned more than I thought possible. And none of it, really, from textbooks.

Don’t get me wrong, it was intellectual curiosity and ideas that fired a lot of the things that I enjoyed – debating and student politics for instance. And while tutorial discussions were fascinating and stimulating it was the promise that they would lead to more concrete, real experiences that drove me forward. Maybe even the promise of a job.

There is so much in St Andrews to be excited about. I’ve met the finest people I’ve ever known here and had some of the best nights out. When people from home ask me about St Andrews they usually end their question with a patronising head-tilt, a softening of the eyes and the words “I hear there isn’t much nightlife”. On the contrary – there is a bright and vivacious nightlife that is student-driven and student-led.

From themed events and alternative locations, St Andrews has never disappointed on that front – though we’ve all experienced the tragedy of an empty dance floor at the Lizard. We throw our own balls and increasingly more innovative events, with our town’s small size and limited resources forcing us to constantly outdo ourselves; ever to excel.

St Andrews’ small size is one of its many assets. With 8,000 students from all across the globe squeezed into such a small space it becomes a crucible of intellect and creativity. We’re stuck to a rock on the north east coast; we have no option but to make our own fun.

My brother may dismiss them, but societies and clubs are central to a university’s purpose. Fair enough, I’m biased – I spent a huge amount of my time involved with Mermaids and the performing arts – but it’s been the most challenging and rewarding part of my time here. You’re working in groups with passionate and committed people, solving problems, producing plays and helping others to get the most out of St Andrews.

It’s odd handing everything over, packing up and getting ready to move on. But you realise that although you’re moving on, you’re taking all the memories and lessons with you.

At St Andrews you’re part of a community that celebrates its fast-paced and transient nature. You’ve got four years to make it your own, to build your St Andrews, and then only three short years after you go it’s an entirely different place.

Constant change and enduring legacy run side by side in St Andrews in perfect harmony.

Traditions like the pier walk span the centuries, with a vast sea of scarlet gowns connecting us with our past. Then newer traditions, like the academic family, foster friendships and pseudo-familial ties that will last throughout your time here – or, if you’re lucky like me, for far longer.

Being such a small community means that our diverse arrays of interests percolate, and we can experience cultures and ideas from all across the globe. People who at first may seem at odds with ourselves can end up becoming our dearest friends. You learn to see past stereotypes, to take people for who they are.

Whether it’s rugby or Comp Sci, St Andrews shows you that people are people and if you open your mind the possibilities are limitless.

My time at St Andrews has been one of great variation, full of the highs and lows that life affords us in our first flight out of the nest. Towards the end of a bottle of wine (each), a friend and I were discussing the past four years.

“You know,” she said, “there’s no better place than St Andrews to be sad.”

I was struck for a moment, but then I realised she was right. Here you are safe to explore, to learn and to fail. Here you are supported and encouraged to try out your ideas and to discover who you are. And by the time you reach the end, you realise that you’re ready to go. Ready to face the real world.

St Andrews is mad. So, if you can make it here, the real world can’t be so hard.

In a place like St Andrews you really do get out what you put in. You might as well; what have you got to lose… apart from your sanity?


  1. “Whether it’s rugby or Comp Sci, St Andrews shows you that people are people and if you open your mind the possibilities are limitless.” ORLY?
    Not a whole lot of trite cliches at all, well done for this “student-driven and student-led” mumbo jumbo problem solving pile of smoking bull! I’m surprised you’re not president after all, it’s a shame so many thespians couldn’t be grateful for your “help”: for some reason (isn’t St. Andrews mad?) they all had to tell me not to vote for you. I hope your “first flight out of the nest” doesn’t end in the same way as for most seagulls in this “mad” town: crashing in someone’s bin, half run over by a car, hanging out by Subway for the rest of your life.

    • I can tell you for a fact that all the thespians I know (most of them) are very grateful for Davids help, he’s done a fantastic job with Mermaids. Anyway good read and I completely agree David!

  2. This is one of the best articles I’ve read from the saint for a long time. ‘George’ is talking nonsense, like genuine nonsense. You’ve just compared graduation with being a seagull. Let’s all just be glad that your not president and move on. Well done David.

    • Your pal Patt started off with the avian metaphor. He might fancy himself an eagle, but then again I’m quite sure most seagulls do. Now the Saint is usually pretty bad, but this trite threnody wins it all. “Ever to excel” at preparing balls, certainly not at writing. Please stop the self-congratulation and the pats on the back.

  3. Maybe one day George will have the balls to put himself forward for something? Or maybe he’ll remain a sad little keyboard warrior?

    • You mean I should do like Davey here, get elected as Mermaids President in a bid to then get SU president? Didn’t work so well for him, didn’t work so well for Mermaids. I think I’ll stick with being a coward.


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