November 30, is St. Andrew’s Day in Scotland. It is also the date for graduation ceremonies at the University of St. Andrews. The university will be celebrating its 600th year of existence in 2013! To put that in perspective, I graduated from one of the foremost state universities in the United States, The Pennsylvania State University. Penn State was founded in 1855. At that time, St. Andrews had already been educating students for 442 years! The University of St. Andrews was the first university in Scotland and the 3rd oldest English speaking university in the world. That represents history and tradition.
As one would expect, the graduation ceremony calls deeply on the institution’s medieval roots. It is a very formal affair with graduating men wearing tux, white tie and gown. The graduate students are under the care of St. Leonard’s College and they come together for graduation at Younger Hall, which is the music centre auditorium. On the stage are the chairs of St. Andrews and in the middle front a, desk and chair for the university Chancellor and stanchions for univeristy maces.
A procession begins the ceremony with selected doctors of the university entering in reverse order of their seniority. The Chancellor then comes forward behind the maces of the university, considered the finest collection of maces in Europe. Each mace is borne by Macers in formal uniform with tails. Three of the maces are of medieval origin: the mace of the Faculty of Arts (1418); the mace of the Faculty of Canon Law (1457); and the mace of San Salvator’s College (1461), the oldest of the university colleges. The modern university mace (1958) takes the form of St. Andrew bearing the cross. And, there is the Rector’s Mace, first used in 2003 featuring the figure of Monk Laurence of Lindores, the first Rector of the university.
Key parts of the ceremony are in Latin including the processional song, opening prayer and benediction. The prayers are Trinitarian, Christ centered and God honoring. They are translated as follows:
Opening Prayer: Almighty and eternal God;
Prepare all our doings by your spirit
And further them by your help;
That all our work,
And especially this task which we now undertake,
May be begun from you
And through your reach its completion;
That we may glorify thy holy name
And by your mercy
Obtain eternal life;
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Benediction: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ
And the love of God
And the communion of the Holy Spirit
Be with us all
For ever and ever. Amen.
In conferring the degrees, each graduate’s name is called by the Dean of the college and they proceed across the stage. When they arrive in the middle, they kneel on a kneeler in front of the Chancellor. The Chancellor then “caps” the student by touching his/her shoulder with a late 17th century doctor’s birretum mounted on a fragment of a graduation gown. This fragment has been used for over 300 years [Some have posited that the gown fragment is actually a piece of John Knox’s breeches which is not possible because of the discrepancy of dates; a nice legend however.]. While capping, the Chancellor pronounces in Latin words of degree conferral used since the first degrees granted at St. Andrews. The head Macer, standing behind the kneeling student, places the appropriate hood over the head of the graduate. The graduate rises, accepts the congratulations of the Chancellor and walks off the other side of the stage.
When the degrees are conferred, there is a recessional in the opposite order, maces, Chancellor, and senior to junior doctors joined by the new graduates as a representation of their ascension into the academic community with their new rank. There is a sense of rich history and tradition not seen in college graduations in the USA. The graduates at St. Andrews are entering into a long and distinguished history of academic achievement, forever becoming a part of that tapestry woven of nearly 600 years. They now stand with the likes of George Buchanan, Thomas Chalmers, George Gillespie, John Knox, Patrick Hamilton, John Witherspoon and Russell Kirk in the roll call of St Andrews graduates.
Susan and I were there, of course to witness Lucas’ graduation. This event marked his entry into the rank of scholars at one of the world’s most prestigious universities. He moved from a Master of Arts to a Master of Letters. His academic work was in Reformation Studies and his degree dissertation was on the first few years of the Consistory at Calvin’s Geneva. As one who loves history, Lucas has now become part of the history of scholarship at the University of St. Andrews. For Susan, Katie, Lucas and me, graduation at St. Andrews was a grand occasion. Congratulations to Lucas and thanks to Almighty God for His grace and provision in Lucas’ life.