Graduation address: Bishop Wardlaw Professor Josep Call FBA FRSE

Lauren Sykes
Tuesday 28 November 2023

Tuesday 28 November 2023

Morning ceremony

Chancellor, special guests, colleagues, and especially graduates, congratulations, you have done it! I will say what I say to doctoral candidates after they pass their viva: Welcome to the club! Because you have now joined a club formed by diverse people who seek enlightenment and the advancement of knowledge by the relentless evaluation of ideas and facts.

I would also like to extend my congratulations to your parents, family, supporters, and friends who are here with us today. Being a father myself of a young man currently attending university, I know only too well about the highs and lows of your experience. So many times I wondered, will he be safe, will he learn and enjoy the experience, will he find his true passion?

I would not want to forget my colleagues either (including those in professional services). Congratulations to you too. Another graduating class joins our ranks and, in doing so, fulfils the all-important function of passing our knowledge down to the next generation. Not just by making copies of ourselves but by making our graduates even better prepared than we were when we graduated.

I thought necessary to congratulate all of you because, even though today we joyfully celebrate our graduates’ individual accomplishments, each and every one of you has contributed to this delightful outcome. Rarely, if ever, do we accomplish great things on our own. Most human endeavours, particularly the greatest ones, are collective endeavours. Obtaining a St Andrews degree, another one of those great endeavours, is no exception.

Graduates, I know that only your name will appear on your diploma, but think about how many times you read the work of others, learned from others, worked with others, and even received direct help from others. I am excluding ChatGPT here. In art, literature, or science, we are privileged to stand on the shoulders of giants to see farther, to understand better.

Note that even this graduation ceremony is a collective endeavour. It is not simply that scheduling each of you separately with our Chancellor could be quite challenging. Making this ceremony a collective affair endows it with a special importance. You are getting your degree together with your classmates. Additionally, you are obtaining your degree in front of an audience who act as witnesses of this important rite of passage. You are not just here and now, you are collectively sharing and forging this experience. Shared experiences constitute the bedrock of human collective action.

Relish on your individual and collective accomplishments of having obtained a St Andrews degree, reflect, and cherish your individual and collective memories about your time in St Andrews, and boldly set your sights on the next challenge. A job, another degree, some time off perhaps – who knows what the future will bring.

And speaking of the future, I would not want to finish my address without giving you some advice. After all, professors and advisers like me have to profess and advise – it is our raison d’être. My advice to you is this: find and follow your dreams. But how, you may wonder? Excellent question! Since I know how fond our student population is of the Great British bake off, I will answer this question with my own recipe for how I made my dreams come true. It has three ingredients: talent, passion, and effort.

Talent is what we have helped you develop while you were in St Andrews with us. We taught you about discoveries, theories, and techniques. But, more importantly, we helped you develop your creativity, rigour, and critical thinking. You are now well equipped to excel in whatever you choose. However, know that your training will require constant updating. Our disciplines are not stationary, they flow, and we must adapt. Do not be fooled by our fancy attire and academic titles, all of us up here are still students at heart. Read, read, read. Because what you read now you will remember for years, but what you read in a few years, you will be lucky if you remember after two weeks. Time and the memories captured in it are soft fragile things, as Dali masterfully portrayed in The Persistence of Memory.

Passion is the second ingredient. Passion is your goals, your burning desire to achieve something, the fire in your belly that impels you to keep going no matter the cost. Passion is a very personal thing: we can train your talent, but we cannot train your passion. We can help you discover it by exposing you to the things that fascinate us but, ultimately, only you can discover your true calling. How will you know that you have discovered your true passion? I answer this question with another question: would I be willing to pay instead of being paid to do my job? I can say that I would. Hopefully, nobody from HR is listening.

Effort is the third ingredient. Plenty of talent and passion without the necessary effort will come to nothing. Beware that things may not work out exactly as you expected. If despite your best efforts you are making no progress, do not get discouraged, this is not unusual. Persist in your effort but be smart when doing so. Re-evaluate your strategy and try to find another way to get to your goal. Remember the saying, “when a door closes a window opens”. And you are listening to someone who has jumped through a few windows, figuratively speaking, during his career.

Each of these three ingredients (TPE) needs to be mixed thoroughly and with care. All are necessary but the exact proportions may vary from person to person.

Above all, do not hesitate to ask for help from others. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength and intelligence, because it means that you know your current limitations or difficulties and who could help you overcome them. Your family, your friends, your teachers, and many others will be happy to help you. You will never walk alone.

I wish you a very happy and fulfilling life.

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