Graduation address: The Very Revd Professor Ian Bradley

Thursday 7 December 2017

Vice-Chancellor, ladies and gentlemen. First and foremost, a hearty congratulations to all of you who have graduated today, and to your parents and supporters.

Congratulations too, to those who have organised today’s ceremony. We've just given honorary degrees this afternoon to Donna James and Aileen Colford who between them have been responsible for 81 years of service in organising these graduations (not individually, I hasten to say). There must have been some trepidation, perhaps, that with their departure, things might start falling apart, but no, everything has run smoothly – a tribute both to their very thorough briefing of those who have stepped into their shoes and to the dedication of their successors.

And while we are in our eighties, as it were, I hope I may be allowed to single out for mention one person who has crossed the stage this afternoon – David Weekes, whom I had the honour to supervise for his doctorate on John Buchan, is 83 years young. It puts him 56 years ahead of the average age of graduates at this ceremony and the first octogenarian St Andrews PhD graduate for ten years. His success shows that just as it’s never too late to fall in love, or to bill and coo come to that, it is never too late to embark on a St Andrews degree. Nonagenarians, let’s be having you!

It is customary for those delivering these addresses to offer words of wisdom which will guide you in the big bad world that awaits you outside the St Andrews bubble, or more realistically, perhaps stay with you as far as the graduation reception that awaits, which I imagine you're all desperate to get to. Nearly everyone in this hall has graduated in Management or business, and I would not presume to offer any words of wisdom to you. For inspiration, I’ve found myself reflecting on the many occasions that I’ve stood on this stage over the nearly 20 years that I have been an academic at this great university.

Over that time, I have given two graduation addresses, three laureations to honorary graduates, orated goodness knows how many Latin prayers and benedictions and sat through nearly 200 graduation ceremonies. I have also performed on this stage in a rather different capacity in numerous shows and concerts by the University’s Gilbert and Sullivan Society.

So I hope you will allow me to take my words of wisdom to you from Gilbert and Sullivan this afternoon and specifically from the Gondoliers which was the Society’s production this semester.  They come from a song in the middle of the opera when things have got complicated and they sum up Gilbert and Sullivan’s own philosophy of life.

Try we lifelong, we can never
Straighten out life’s tangled skein,
Why should we, in vain endeavour,
Guess, and guess, and guess again.
Life’s a pudding full of plums,
Care’s a canker that benumbs.
Wherefore waste our elocution
On impossible solution?
Life’s a pleasant institution,
Let us take it as it comes.

That strikes me as not a bad maxim to take out from here to the graduation reception or even into the big bad world – ‘Life’s a pleasant institution – let us take it as it comes’.

And still with Gilbert and Sullivan, and with the Vice-Chancellor’s permission, for which I am very grateful, I would like to conclude this ceremony in song – one in which I hope and indeed expect you to join in. It is my own re-working of a number which I have sung many times on this stage over the last twenty years. It is the Policeman’s Song from the Pirates of Penzance, a staple of our lunchtime concerts.  I would normally be donning a policemen’s helmet (and by a rather curious coincidence, the two of us who were inducted as professors of Theology this afternoon possess – we must be the only people in St Andrews, probably Scotland – both possess Thames Valley Police constable helmets which we keep in our studies. Mine for G and S purposes, not quite sure what Professor Wolfe's is for). I won't be putting my policeman's helmet on or pulling out my truncheon for this but on this occasion, I don’t need them as the subject is you – the parents, supporters and students. I hope you recognise yourselves in these words and I hope you might join in by repeating the last four syllables of every line – so at the end of the first line you sing ‘graduation’ and at the second ‘Mums and Dads’. Here goes – a graduation ditty dedicated to you all.

At the end of a St Andrews graduation – graduation
There is many a very happy Mum and Dad – Mum and Dad
Reflecting on their children’s education – education
The very best they ever could have had – could have had
No matter that their loans are astronomical – astronomical
No matter that the kids are coming back – coming back
The St Andrews experience is phenomenal – is phenomenal
And it’s put them without doubt on the right track – the right track 

Ah, when the graduation business has been done – has been done
A parent’s lot’s a very happy one – happy one

Now our students, as we know, are always studying – always studying
In libraries and laboratories non-stop – ries non stop
And their precious brains they never have been muddling – have been muddling
In the Central, or at Aikmans or the bop - or the bop
For St Andrews folk are never known to party – known to party
They believe in lots of work and not in fun – not in fun
For some a little sport or something arty – something arty
A student’s lot’s a very serious one – serious one

Ah, with graduation business to be done – to be done
A student’s lot’s a very serious one – serious one!

So now that graduation is over, St Andrews graduates, abandon that seriousness that has characterised you all through your students days here – join your parents and supporters, go out and have lots of fun – lots of fun!

The Very Revd Professor Ian Bradley 
Principal of St Mary’s College
School of Divinity