The University of St Andrews fosters an ethos built around the ideals of family and community. The academic family, occupying a sacred place in the lives of students, becomes a second set of parents and siblings, helping freshers happily settle into university life. To have your biological family so heavily linked to the university, though, is a rarer fortune which is enjoyed by Jacqui Kelly, a First Year Social Anthropology student from Canada, whose father and grandmother are both alumni of the University.
We interviewed the three family members to find out a bit more about why they all chose St Andrews, how their experiences compare and what this legacy has brought to their family.
With two generations before her having studied here, when asked if she had ever felt a familial pressure to come to St Andrews for her university education, Jacqui said that, although never forced, she knew that she had to apply:
“Having my father and grandmother as alumni, I knew that I definitely had to apply! I wanted to get the grades to be able to get in here, and whether or not I came here I wanted to say that I could have gone there, to keep up the family tradition”.
Of course, Jacqui did get the grades and decided to leave her home in Vancouver and come to the north east coast of Fife.
A decision that, undoubtedly, would have overjoyed grandmother, Isobel, and father, Neil. Isobel graduated in 1961 in Physics and Astronomy and her son, Neil, graduated with a degree in Management in 1990.
St Andrews is a special place for the family. Isobel tells us of how she brought Jacqui to the town for the first time when she was just six years old: “I walked her around St Andrews and we stood on the doorstep of McIntosh and John Burnett Halls and I told her how much I had enjoyed my time at the University.”
Little did she know that years later she would be dropping her off in the town to start her university career, just as she had done with her son. Both Neil and Isobel came with Jacqui to St Andrews in September and the two generations reflected upon what has changed and what has remained the same. For Neil, much has remained the same: “I see many of the same things – the Old Course, the R&A Clubhouse, the Dunvegan, the Vic, Fisher & Donaldson…There are new stores and buildings but, in many ways, it looks very similar to when I was there.”
Isobel, however, naturally notices a few more differences: “The old part of the town is just as I remember, and I still avoid stepping on the PH! However, the Student Union is unrecognizable. My biggest disappointment is the loss of students in gowns walking the streets on a daily basis. My gown was very important to me and I was proud that Jacqui was able to wear it on her first pier walk – despite the fact that it was a bit worn after travelling around the world with me as I followed my husband in his occupation. In listening to the voices and accents around town I hear many more American accents. In addition, there are certainly many more restaurants.”
After her first semester in St Andrews, Jacqui feels she has settled in well, having made friends with her flatmates and found an academic family with parents who, on Raisin, dressed her and her siblings as superheroes, carrying a pumpkin as her receipt.
Raisin as a celebration has certainly evolved over the years, as Isobel tells us about her rather more anxious experience of the tradition:
“In my day the senior man [academic father] was obliged to write a receipt in Latin upon my receipt of a pound of raisins or a bottle of wine. On Raisin Monday I was obliged to carry this receipt and could be accosted by any senior student who would either examine the receipt for mistakes or produce a flawless rendition of Gaudeamus igitur…This was quite a different experience from Jacqui’s, which was all about fun.”
Isobel also talks of how academic life has changed in St Andrews, whilst also highlighting some important benefits of coming to such a university, in a small town in Fife:
“No attendance records were kept at lectures or tutorials. I remember a lecturer telling us that one in three of the entering class would not be graduating. That is so different now. It looks like this difference is due to closer attention to the students by the faculty. I feel a major part of a university education is obtained from rubbing shoulders with your talented peers, and St Andrews offers great opportunities for this interaction due to the residential lifestyle, the concept of academic families, and the fact that everyone lives in close proximity.”
Neil has also noticed this impressive increase in support. His strongest memories consist of the friendships made from meeting people in accommodation, studies and other areas. “The fact that St Andrews is small means that you can bump into people on a regular basis. There was a real sense of community,” he says. A keen golfer, Neil was on the University’s team. Other societal commitments included membership of the renowned Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Appreciation Society.
It is exciting, even from an outsider’s perspective, to think that the traditions which Neil partook in 32 years ago and the balls and dinners of 60 years ago which Isobel frequented, are now going to live on through Jacqui’s time in St Andrews. Literally walking in her family’s footsteps, wearing her grandmother’s gown along the pier was a fitting nod to the past at the beginning of Jacqui’s own St Andrews experience. This story reveals just some reasons why the University of St Andrews frequently appears at the top of student satisfaction surveys, and it seems this is result that has traversed the generations.