Thursday, 18 November 2010
Within this very quad, several scores of moons ago, lectures were attended, exams were sat, champagne was poured, ball-gowns were admired, shaving-foam was sprayed, friendships were forged and life-long relationships were sealed. I expect Prince William and his bride-to-be would not believe me if I told them that one’s ‘post-finals-frenzy’ seems like only yesterday (although a glance at the happy-snappies from that time is enough to make anyone heave over our total lack of sartorial elegance....it was, after-all the 80’s, and no-one can pretend the ’glass of fashion’ was at its zenith just then). But there are certain milestones, certain moments and certain places which mark out life’s transitional stages and therefore remain unforgettable. The Quad of St Salvator’s in St Andrews University is undoubtedly one of those places for generations of graduates.
St Andrews has been rather thrilled to tell the world that it ranks as one of the most romantic universities ....one in ten graduates finds their marital partner there, a statistic that is apparently top of that particular league. And now that a Royal Wedding is on the cards, I have heard certain commentators boasting that even Oxford and Cambridge haven’t as yet managed to bring about a royal engagement. Our First Minister, Alex Salmond, a St Andrews graduate himself, appears to be tickled pink.
Looking at St Salvator’s Quad now, the place seems to reek potential, bristling with the as-yet-untapped contribution that those who pass through it might make to the world. While I can’t remember picking up a Prince from those days myself, I do recall participating in some extraordinary experiences and delighting in many strong and faithful friendships that continue to sustain and enhance one’s existence.
Of course this is no different from any other university. But whatever adventures are in store post-graduation, for most graduates, St Andrews is a place that gets under the skin. Only last night I attended a retirement dinner for a St Andrews graduate who went on to carve out a significant career in the mysterious art of operations geology. A stickler for detail and famous for his unforgiving use of the red pen, his high-standards mingled with a generous consideration for others have left a lasting impression on the oil industry across several continents.
You will know by now of my passion for that Norwegian super-hero, Fridtjof Nansen. Apart from being a polar explorer, politician, diplomat, humanitarian and Nobel Peace Prize winner, he was also the Rector of St Andrews University in 1926. In heading his Rectorial address ‘Adventure’, he indicated his sense that life should be viewed as such, and that student-hood was the springboard from which great ideas and achievements should be launched. In addressing the students of that time, Nansen said, ‘it is not the aim and end of life to become ‘famous and fortunate’. It is not as easy as that. You have come here to do your part and to do it well, wherever you are placed....if the world is out of joint, it is for you to put it right, to make it a better place to live in, each of you to the best of your ability: as I told you, there is ample scope for improvement.’
Well, it seems that although times may have changed since 1926, there is still ‘ample scope for improvement’. And now, as discussions on our current financial turmoil waft out of my radio, I can’t help thinking about another St Andrews graduate, an economist who changed a vast slice the world. Bet you can’t guess who?
Posted by Returning Scot at 13:35