Graduation address: Professor Stephen Linton

Wednesday 21 June 2017

Vice-chancellor, ladies and gentlemen.

Welcome to this graduation ceremony, and to our new graduates, my heartiest congratulations; each and every one of you should be feeling very proud. Today is a day devoted to celebrating your achievements, as it should be. Alongside that though, I encourage each of you to reflect on the help and support you have received along the way: the love, support and encouragement of your families; the teachers at school who went the extra mile to help you realise and develop your talents; the friends who stood by you when things were tough; and the academic and support staff of the University who made your studies here possible.

The experience of studying in St Andrews is often referred to as The Bubble, and there is some truth in that: this is a place where at least some of the concerns of everyday life are kept at arm’s length. For a few years, you have been able to decide what’s important to you and to make that the focus of your lives.

The Bubble is often presented as a negative, isolating thing which risks leaving its inhabitants inward looking and out of touch with the world. In fact though, The Bubble represents one of the most valuable, and constantly threatened things that universities have always provided – a space for ideas. Here, within The Bubble, away from some of the immediate needs of the world, ideas, whether very new or very old, very strange or so obvious that no one realised they were ideas, can be set out, discussed, critiqued, developed,  evaluated and discarded or improved upon. Students are exposed to those ideas with time to absorb them, to debate them, to accept them or to reject them and to contribute ideas of their own.

There is a real risk from spending time in the St Andrews Bubble, though – the risk of forgetting how amazing you are. Each and every one of you, our graduates, is a remarkable person. To be admitted to St Andrews you had to achieve the highest distinctions at school. To complete your degrees you have all had to work very hard – one of my recurring tasks as Head of School has been to remind Computer Science students that they are supposed to go home and sleep occasionally. You have had to learn to question what others tell you and to seek out and absorb new knowledge, new techniques and new perspectives. You have had to learn to work well with others and to work hard alone.  Your success is proved by your graduation here today.

But that isn’t all. Alongside your studies, some of you have achieved excellence in sport, drama or music. Some of you have started your own companies. Some of you have organised ambitious charity and social events. Doctoral students have taught and inspire the next generation of undergraduates. Some of you work for local charities or political parties. Some of you volunteer in the most deprived and disrupted parts of the world. Others have simply been reliable friends to others when they needed it. I am constantly amazed by the achievements of our students.

Inside The Bubble, it is easy for you to think ‘this is what everyone does’, ‘it was nothing special’, ‘I was just in the right place’ but it isn’t so. You will go out into the world having done, and thought, and accomplished things that few others have. Each of you has the potential to be a leader in whatever sphere you choose. You have the knowledge and the intellectual tools to see what needs to be done in a complex and changing world, and the confidence, energy and skills to do it. You are the people who can make a difference and change the world around you. So do not sell yourselves short. Whether it is in politics, charity, business, research, sport or something that has not even been invented yet, you can make the world a better place.

However, as John F Kennedy said ‘For of those to whom much is given, much will be required’. Since you can make the world better, you should try to do so. You owe it to those who helped get you here, and to yourselves. Share your knowledge and experience as a teacher, mentor or parent. Create beautiful art, useful inventions and productive businesses. Discover wonders of the natural world. Help lead your community through the challenges of the future. Do not be afraid to step up. There will be few people better equipped than you for the task, and there is nothing more rewarding.

For what you have achieved here, we are so proud of you. For what you will achieve, we wait eagerly and will always be proud. And wherever you are, we hope you will always regard St Andrews as a place you can call home.

Thank you.

Professor Stephen Linton
School of Computer Science