Photo: University of St Andrews

Graduation Ball 2018: The Great Escape

Natasha Franks reviews Grad Ball.

Referred to by normies as Grad Week, the University of St Andrews’ June Graduation Ceremonies marked the denouement of the Class of 2018. Some (post-) graduates merely endured a year of the uni’s eponymous town, while other grads scored a cumulative two years as they alternated between St Andrews and our American counterpart in Williamsburg. The more medically-inclined amongst us tolerated an impressive three years of North Haugh. But it is the fourth years, the former Classes of 2013 and 2014, who soldiered through every minute of their Scottish-sized degrees. If Facebook newsfeed analytics are correct, it appears that the majority of graduates received firsts. Against all odds, congratulations.

Every person in this picture got a first.

Despite memories of the Beast from the East, Grad Week suffered from no such whiteout. Blue skies framed the hoods of former students, as sunbeams bounced off beaming faces to craft a portrait cloying in its perfection. The old Latin phrases of Vice Chancellor Sally Mapstone still ringing in our ears, we processed down North Street, a suitable backdrop to the historic walk. Compared to the two southerly streets Market and South, North Street has remained remarkably unblighted by national chains or half-rate fast food joints – a fact gratifying to anyone who wants to pose without Subway in the background.

As Professor Mapstone acknowledged in her address, this university is the oldest in all of Scotland, one of the oldest three in the English-speaking word. Graduation, so deeply entrenched in history, serves to highlight the collapsing vitality of St Andrews. The town’s landmark status is being eroded for the sake of easy money: One need only look at the sale of the iconic Golf Hotel to corporate brand Hotel du Vin, or the sudden-onset gentrification of South Street, or even the substitution of the Lizard with a luxury spa, to see many examples of lost values.

Photo: Lightbox Creative

Navel-gazing and Latin-based graduation rites rapidly gave way to Grad Ball. The music was mediocre, the venue decoration was acceptable, the bar service was slow, the freebies were great, except for the free bubbly, which is never quite good enough for our refined, twenty-one year old palates.

After four years of writing reviews, the above paragraph is the consistent consensus for every ball, fashion show, or festival that I have had the pleasure of attending. It is easy to assume that ingrained ungratefulness is rooted in some country’s culture – but St Andrews, as we constantly hear, is an international university. Students from dozens of countries attend these events. Rather than a single country’s overarching attitude, this is a literal school of thought. The culture of St Andrews is one of self-superiority, entitlement, competitiveness, and greed.

The headlining act is never good enough; there aren’t enough freebies; the dancefloor is too crowded; tickets are too expensive. For an event to be good, it must also be exclusive – the VIP section, the VVIP section, the invitation-only VVVIP section. If other people don’t feel inferior, what’s the point of being superior? If your wristband doesn’t say you’re important, then how will people know? 

Photo: University of St Andrews

Dull pseudo-intellectualism aside, I can honestly say that I will miss certain parts of St Andrews. Few places are as placidly predictable, both in temperament and aesthetic. New money pretends to be old money; old money pretends to have no money. Teenagers pretend to be adults; young adults pretend to be children. Now on the cusp of the working world, I imagine the way my interviewer’s eyes will widen when I say, “You know, I was on a University fashion show committee.” A place on the Vic’s guest list will undoubtedly transfer to Cirque Le Soir, and the night bus is an obvious microcosm of the Tube.

I’m cynical, sarcastic, and certainly hypocritical, but I am also grateful for the metropolitan rush of this Tiny Scottish Town, blessedly secure in my rearview mirror. Aided by six hundred years of history, St Andrews has summoned every Latin line in its lexicon to send us, beguiled and bumptious, ex solo ad solem – from the Earth, to the Sun.

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