Letter to the editor: another day, another death in St Andrews



I learned on Thursday that a student in my small honours anthropology class passed away early last week. I walked into class Thursday morning only to sit down and hear the news that Jeremy would not be with us to see the semester through. And then, after a pause that felt all too short, we moved on to the day’s scheduled lesson as if nothing had happened. Jeremy’s customary seat was occupied by someone else, and it was almost as though Jeremy had merely overslept, just like a couple of the other kids who were absent that day.

I didn’t know Jeremy outside of class, but his contributions in class were always welcome. He was the type of student who made you work harder so that you could keep up with what he was saying. There was a pause in class on Thursday when our professor asked us to describe Hegel’s view on government. Unlike most of us, Jeremy knew just as much about philosophy as anthropology. There was a silence as we all waited for Jeremy’s voice to cut through the quiet and mask our ignorance. On Thursday that silence continued unabated.

I don’t know how Jeremy passed away, but reading between the lines produces an uncomfortable conclusion in the pit of my stomach. A conclusion that perhaps this did not need to happen, that perhaps Jeremy could have been there in class on Thursday, had things been slightly different. And soon after I begin to wonder what role I played in this tragedy, how I might have acted differently. I don’t know the answer to these questions and I hope dearly that I am making unfounded and inappropriate assumptions.

Part of me would like to ask why there has been so little information provided to us, why the only comfort offered by the university was an email informing us of his passing and vague encouragement to seek out the chaplaincy if we needed support. I don’t know exactly what to do in these situations, but continuing class as normal doesn’t feel right, even if it was a well-intentioned gesture by a professor who was also unsure of how to proceed. Another part of me wonders why I open my inbox all too often to see yet another email notifying us of the death of a student or staff member.

But mostly, I sit here with a melancholy feeling in my heart while I watch a sense of mourning and grief wash over the town, rushing down the streets in great currents and leaving little swirling eddies in unexpected corners, affecting everyone differently, but leaving no one completely untouched.

In retrospect I see some significance in the deep fog that unexpectedly settled over St Andrews early last week, interrupting the bright sunshine that has recently been the norm. I see it as a reminder that the sun does not shine just as brightly on all of us in St Andrews. That not all of us can count on the fact that we will still be here next year, or even next week. I’m not a terribly religious person, but it seems to me that even the earth itself paused to drape a heavy cloud over our town and mark the loss of another student in our St Andrews community. And when that fog lifted, it took with it another bright future. A future that no amount of sunshine can bring back.

You will be missed, Jeremy.

Yours sincerely,

Will Gifford


  1. It is the time-honored and appropriate function of newspapers (or their digital equivalents) serving a community to report on, and mark, the death of community members with a properly researched obituary. It is baffling that a college community news outlet, such as this or the Stand, would not do so.

    • It is customary for British student news organisations not to report on student deaths or write obituaries. This is largely done out of respect for the families. It is left up to the University to write the appropriate words.

      • I stand informed/corrected, although this heartfelt letter seems to address a gap left by this custon in the life of the community (since the University does not seem to have written any “appropriate words” addressing the concerns expressed here). Yankee Mum is a nod to my hybrid status as a U.S. commenter in a U.K. environment, a flicker of attempted wit that apparently failed in its task.

  2. I don’t know if posting this piece was right or not, but it touches on some important ideas. We are a community that’s supposed to be learning and teaching together. The most important lesson being we must always do our best by those we come across. And act with care – we never know what’s going on under the surface.

  3. Nightline is an anonymous and confidential listening and information service, run by students, for students. It is open every night halls are open from 8pm to 7am. You can call Nightline talk about anything, from exam stress to suicidal thoughts, and speak in a supportive, non-judgmental and non-directive environment. No topic is too small or too big for Nightline. You can call on 01334 462 226, or on the extension 2266, free from University landlines. You can also email Nightline at nightline@st-andrews.ac.uk.

  4. I think that this was a lovely piece to be written in the wake of events and of Jeremy’s memory. I think it’s right that the students can fill the gaps where the university fails them, because that’s what university is about – I feel glad that someone has pointed out the lack of compassion by the university, and, in doing so, filled the gap in with their own compassion themselves. The uniting of students is something not pressed upon enough, and this article touches upon that. A lovely piece that hopefully Jeremy would have marked. We are not in the old Britain anymore – and the university needs reminding of that. This is the closest its had, so thank you Will.


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