Student to Staff: Being a St Andrews graduate 10 years on

Photo of three graduates in their graduation gowns, working along the pier at East Sands, St Andrews with St Andrews Cathedral in the background. © The University of St Andrews – Gayle McIntyre

Graduation has, and always will, be a special time when students celebrate all the hard work they have put in and finally complete their degree. It is a time to reflect, to recollect, and renew your plans and aspirations. St Andrews has many traditions for graduation, with soakings for when you finish you last exam, to being tapped on the head by John Knox’s ‘pants’ as you collect your degree.

These traditions, sadly, could not all take place this year, though that does not diminish the importance and recognition of what graduates have achieved in these strange times.

Since the founding of the University with the Papal Bull in 1413, St Andrews has seen many students graduate. Some going on to make ground-breaking discoveries, some famous faces, and all of them have left their mark on the world.

Only a handful of degrees could be achieved at first, which expanded over the years as different colleges became part of the University. Until 1889 when the Universities Scotland Act was passed, only men could graduate. The Act made it possible for women to also graduate, and Agnes Forbes Blackadder became the first woman to graduate on the same level as men in 1894.

Since then, many other women followed Agnes in graduating from St Andrews, including several members of our museum team.

Photo of Sophie, standing on the stage at Younger Hall, St Andrews,
with others on stage, waiting to receive her degree

Ten years ago, I graduated from St Andrews with a MA. Hons in Mediaeval History. Fresh faced and unsure what I would like to do as a career, I went out into a world still recovering from a financial crisis. Jobs were not always easy to find, and I eventually stumbled into Retail Management, not exactly what you think an Historian might do. After that, I decided to take a few different career paths including working at a Castle, as well as trying my hand at the property sector.

Now, ten years on, the allure of St Andrews has brought me back and I now work as a University staff member as part of the Visitor Services Team for the Museums. I did leave Fife, for a bit, but my love of this wonderful corner of Scotland has brought me back and I thoroughly enjoy working with an amazing team at the museums and seeing the many wonderful objects in the museum’s collections. And most importantly, looking forward to welcoming visitors to the Wardlaw Museum when we open later this month!

Photo of the 7 University Mace bearers, dressed in formal wear, holding the maces and standing around the statue of Oor Wullie – Prince Wullie. © The University of St Andrews – Gayle McIntyre
You can see the Oor Wullie statue now on the Wardlaw Museum terrace

At the Wardlaw Museum, we have some of the most important objects that take part in graduation, the University maces. These are taken by the mace bearers for graduation and normally graduates follow these down North Street to Younger Hall. The maces then stay present throughout the graduation ceremonies. You can find out more about them in Gallery 1 when you visit the Museum.

Did I think I would be here, working at the Wardlaw Museum, ten years ago when graduating? No, likely not. I did not know where my life would go, though that was part of the fun of the journey! Things were tough, and I was not sure which path I wished to take and what I could do after I graduated. One top tip I would say though is please visit the University Careers Centre either as a student, or for up to three years after graduating. I went later as a graduate, and they were very helpful when I was seeking a new direction to go.

Things do seem odd currently, you may not know what you wish to do, but do not let that effect you. Everything will improve in time, you may go down a few different paths and double back, though you will get there. Graduating is but the start of another journey, and you have time to decide where that will take you. Enjoy the ride, and you never know where it might lead you. Even back to the place where it all began.

Photo of Sophie, in her graduation gown and hood, standing on the steps going down into the nave of the ruins of St Andrews Cathedral.

Written by Sophie Belau-Conlon, Cultural and Community Engagement Officer/Visitor Services Supervisor