Graduation address: Professor Frank Gunn-Moore

Lauren Sykes
Wednesday 14 June 2023

Wednesday 14 June 2023

Morning ceremony

Vice-Chancellor, special guests, colleagues, and graduates…

First of all, my heartfelt congratulations! Well done to the graduates, but also well done to their families and friends, many of whom are here, or are watching online, and who will be celebrating the day with you. And, of course, a special congratulations to Professor Simon Tavaré, who now has one of our coveted St Andrews degrees.

I felt truly honoured to be asked to give this graduation address for you. As a biochemist, it was exceptionally pleasing to be asked to do this for the graduates of the Schools of Biology and Chemistry: two subjects that have forged my own career.

You are a cohort of students I know well, as my head of School tenure started over four years ago when many of you were starting, so we have been learning together. And, of course, for Biology and Chemistry the last few years has been exceptionally challenging: the Biomolecular Sciences Building fire happening a month before I started, and then, just as we thought we were getting back to some sort of normality, the pandemic hit us hard. But now, thankfully, the new BMS building is open, featuring arguably the best teaching labs in the country, and we have arms full of vaccines to protect us, which were, of course, developed by fellow biologists and chemists. Always remember that it was biologists and chemists who made the vaccines, drugs, and treatments.

In a graduation address, I am tasked to try and provide some sage words that you will remember and will hopefully inspire you to the next part of your careers. And so, I will be providing you with a series of quotes, possibly from some unusual places.

Initially, I thought back to other graduation addresses that I have heard where previous speakers rightly pointed out that your generation has been wrongly tarred at certain times by society. Indeed, I found the following treatise:

“They are changeable and fickle in their desires, which are violent while they last, but quickly over: their impulses are keen but not deep-rooted, and are like sick people’s attacks of hunger and thirst. They are hot-tempered, and quick-tempered, and apt to give way to their anger; bad temper often gets the better of them, for owing to their love of honour they cannot bear being slighted, and are indignant if they imagine themselves unfairly treated.”

Now Aristotle, when he made these comments about the “youth of today”, though he obviously knew a thing or two about Philosophy, was being rather unfair, because having been a Head of School for the last four and half years, these comments could be attributed to sometimes my own colleagues, or maybe that is just the Biology Management Group!

Additional research found other sage advice. I believe the following was even quoted by the great philosopher from Springfield, though not the Springfield, in Fife: “As you ramble on through life, Brother, Whatever be your goal, Keep your eye upon the doughnut, And not upon the hole.”

Wise words indeed from Homer Simpson, so what can I tell you?

Well, I could you give some advice that when you buy a suit always buy good quality, because I am currently wearing the suit that I actually graduated in myself, all those many years ago… i.e., buy one that can be let out…

But, in all seriousness, as an academic of this great University, I feel extremely privileged. Not only am I able to explore research and create new knowledge (which is a very rare achievement in any career), but I also have the chance to pass on that information and develop the next generation’s skills on how to learn and tackle problems. More specifically, as I was taught, there are two ways you can make a mark in an academic career.

Firstly, you discover something that is truly ground-breaking. This is hard and rare, and many who think they have discovered something fall foul of this Bill Bryson quote:

“There are three stages in a scientific discovery: first, people deny that it is true; then they deny that it is important; finally they credit the wrong person.”

The second method is to inspire the next generation to go and do better than yourself. This I learnt as I come from a family of educators.

Both are noble attributes, and equally important.

So, some final pieces of advice as you embark on the next stage of your careers, whatever you decide to do:

  • Never worry if you think you do not have all the answers at the beginning. I am known for my neuroscience research, but I have not a single qualification in it. Identify and define the problem or question first, and then learn to work with others to develop the connections and skills to answer or solve the problem.
  • Never be afraid to tackle the big questions or problems. The hardest answers are usually from the simplest questions. My father used to tell me about the KISS principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid! And he was right, define the problem first.
  • We are only limited by our imagination. I truly believe that all the problems that face the world at the moment can be overcome, because the next generation are brighter and smarter – that is you, and Aristotle was way wrong.
  • Lastly, but most importantly – be kind to yourself and to others. As my last quote from the magical book The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse says: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” – “Kind.”

It has been an absolute honour to teach you and hopefully guide you to your next stage. My colleagues and I hope we have provided you with the tools and skills to achieve all of your goals, dreams, and ambitions.

So, congratulations Class of 2023. Go on, make us even prouder than we are already of all of you.

Thank you.

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