Letter to the Rector

Kevin Dunion during the 2008 rectorial Drag. Photo: The University of St Andrews
Kevin Dunion during the 2008 rectorial Drag.  Photo: The University of St Andrews
Kevin Dunion during his 2008 rectorial Drag.
Photo: The University of St Andrews

Dear Catherine,

I look forward to being at your Installation as Rector. It is a day that you will treasure. However, before then you have to survive the Drag, so I thought to offer some tips based on my experience.

  1. Grand entrance: The Rector’s choice of transport to arrive in the Quad always occasions interest. Our predecessors have winched down from a helicopter (Tim Brooke Taylor, 1979-82), cantered up in full armour on horseback (Nicky Campbell, 1991-93) and been delivered wrapped as a parcel in postal van (Sir Clement Freud, 2002-05). I had intended to arrive into the harbour on a lifeboat from Anstruther. However, the RNLI [Royal National Lifeboat Institution] pointed out that if there was an emergency call en route, I could end up attending to a stricken fishing boat in the North Sea instead! So I chose to cycle into the Quad on an ancient Jannetta’s ice cream tricycle. Pick something memorable but which will get you there on time and safely.
  2. Present time: You will be showered with gifts on behalf of the societies and clubs en route. Mostly these have, let us say, ‘sentimental’ value, such as the inflatable Tardis from DocSoc and the head on a stick from AnthroSoc. A redcurrant plant from Tree and Frog Soc still grows in my garden, but the fairtrade chocolate from OneWorld was eaten before the day was out. It’s a good idea to have somebody keep a note of the gifts and who gave them. You will want to write and thank them afterwards and your memory becomes hazy, especially after a drink or several.
  3. Demon drink: There were over 50 societies on my drag, proffering not just gifts but copious amounts of alcohol ranging from douce glasses of port to incendiary Jägerbombs. At various points you will be told (e.g. by the Boat Club in the West Port) that tradition requires you to down a pint in one. It does not, unless like Donald Findlay (1993-99) you have persuaded a beer company to sponsor your drag and you feel obliged to do justice to their generosity. The Rector has to judiciously find a way of accepting some hospitality whilst remaining not just upright but capable of negotiating the pier walk later that night.
  4. End of the Pier Walk: One of the finest sights you can have is to turn and see the long torch-lit procession of red-gowned students passing down the Pends alongside the cathedral walls and following you onto the pier. Then the realisation strikes that you have climb up onto the top of the pier and lead the way back, stumbling on the uneven slippery paving stones in the dark, with the waves smacking on the rocks 20 feet below. Buffeted by the wind, the thought does cross your mind that you may be the first Rector to a) complete the pier walk crawling on your hands and knees or b) fall off. Dignity prevents the former and hanging onto to your Assessor avoids the latter. If you were not sober before you started, you will be when you have finished.
  5. Speech! I am sure you are already drafting your Installation speech. Sir J.M Barrie (1919-22) gave the most famous address, speaking for 90 minutes on the theme of Courage, which was subsequently published and widely circulated. By contrast Clement Freud was the first Rector in 150 years not to write down his speech and now nobody can remember what he said. So keep a copy!

My very best wishes, Catherine.

Kevin Dunion, Rector (2008-11)



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