It’s that time of year again where the graduating class say goodbye to St Andrews and embark on their next adventure. For graduates, the words ‘How does it feel?’ will be ones they’ll likely hear a lot on their big day. Volunteer MUSA blogger, Catriona Scott, gives us insight into what the experience of graduation is like.
The period of time between soakings and graduating is a strange one. You are in a sort of academic limbo – a student with no studying to do, but not yet a graduate. You try to make the most of the freedom and student discounts while you can, before you ascend the steps to the stage of Younger Hall, get tapped on the head with what is purported to be part of John Knox’s breeches, and are officially awarded your degree. If this ritual sounds strange, and a little ominous, that’s because it is. Graduation day is exciting: you are applauded as you cross the stage in front of hundreds of people to be rewarded for the past four years’ studying; you have your proud parents looking on; you get so many pictures taken that by the end of the day your face hurts from smiling. However, as important and special as the day is, it is nerve-wracking too. There’s the formality of the ceremony, and then entering the real world – unless you’re like me and decide to prolong the inevitable by doing another degree.
Reflecting on my graduation two years on, I recall that the prevailing mood on that warm June morning was excitement. So much excitement, in fact, that I ended up twirling around outside Younger Hall in my billowing graduation gown. This was captured on film, as part of the opening credits for the graduation DVDs for the 21st June 2016. I feel I ought to apologise for such exuberance on what is, although exciting, also a very formal day. This formality is intensified in the ceremony itself as a great deal of it is in Latin, from the conferring of degrees to the song Gaudeamus, which everyone sings near the beginning. Although it appears formal, the lyrics are actually remarkably light-hearted and poke fun at university life.
Standing backstage and being instructed on how to correctly hold my hood, I did not feel inclined to poke fun at university life. On the contrary, I was hoping not to be poked fun at myself, hoping not to trip, trying to remember to bow correctly but not too ostentatiously. The moment that four years had been leading up to was about to occur, and despite knowing the steps of the ceremony, and indeed, where I was going after I left university, I felt unprepared. As they called the name of the student before me, I moved onto the stage to stand on the x marked there, waiting for my own name. When the moment came, I walked across, handed my hood to the Bedellus (one of the University mace bearers), and knelt. Then, the Chancellor bopped me on the head with the velvet cap and pronounced the words ‘et super te’ as the Bedellus placed the hood over my head. I stood up, took a step backwards, bowed to the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor, collected my degree certificate in the antechamber and returned to my seat. There was such a build up to that moment, such anticipation, such trepidation, but it was over in seconds. So much had happened in such a short time. I had seen it done many times before I did it myself, but when it actually happened to me the moment was very fleeting. This feeling remained with me throughout the rest of the ceremony, but not just because of that moment. I had spent four years at university, and it had felt like a long time, but as I sat there holding my degree at last, I thought those years had gone by far too quickly.
This feeling continued to grow as my fellow new graduates and I joined the end of the academic procession, walking across the infamous cobblestones marking where Patrick Hamilton was martyred, no longer fearful of failing our degrees by doing so. It was the end of an era. There was a sense of completion, of triumph, but also a sense of loss, even as I smiled for photographs and hugged my friends and family. Although it does not sound inspiring, I believe this loss is part of the beauty of graduation day, as you reflect on your time at university and what lies ahead. Graduation encapsulates so much of the university experience – excitement, nerves, formality, and fun – so for those reasons, perhaps my twirling around outside Younger Hall can be excused.
About Catriona Scott
Catriona graduated from the University of St Andrews in 2016 with a Joint Honours degree in English and Mediaeval History, and from the University of Edinburgh in 2017 with a degree in Playwriting. She has previously written for Broadway Baby, the largest reviewing publication at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.