Saturday, 16 July 2011

The problem with fellow alumni

Many prospective university students look at the people who have successfully (or perhaps unsuccessfully) attended said university. As a graduate of St Andrews University, I stand with a great many wonderful and often famous people. I also stand with a great many anonymous office workers, failed writers and so on, but people don't tend to talk about them quite as often.

People therefore assume that you are of a similar quality and ability of these figures. I assume this is true myself, actually. I reckon I could hold up in a conversation with Alex Salmond, up until the part we have a blistering argument about bridge tolls. I imagine that I could share a witty bon mot with Crispin Bonham Carter and wait for literally three minutes before squeeing that he was in Pride and Prejudice. And yes, I think the education is a certain part of it. I can imagine that one day perhaps I will be a politician, an actor, a bishop (maybe not that) or many of the other wonderful things that St Andrews graduates have become. Maybe I will be a famous writer.

Unfortunately, there's a big roadblock for current St Andrews graduates. They skew the perception of the university, of the graduates, and what our achievements should be. That's right. I'm talking about:

Okay, that's a lie, I'm not actually talking about Ben from Big Brother. (Austen to reality TV is three paragraphs? Why not.) He is, however, part of the problem. I am of course referring to:

Kate and Wills. Or the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, as I believe you're meant to refer to them now. They mean that all St Andrews graduates are expected to somehow be able to operate on a royal level, and I quite simply can't, and neither can anyone I know.

From a strictly republican level, I could point out that many of my fellow graduates are on a similar career path as William; on essentially a graduate scheme, working hard, become a pilot or a doctor or whatever. I could point out that I know many, many graduates who are staying at home without a job just like Kate, although possibly they are not being supported quite so well in it. Both I and Mr Disorientated Graduate could aspire to this, although frankly we'd both agree that he'd be the one staying at home.

From a less republican level, well, buggar. As a nominal Catholic, I'm actually barred from the throne, so there's that one scotched. They've led to assumption that all St Andrews graduates are posh, Move In The Right Circles, and know what knife to use at a dinner party. I've never even been to a dinner party and I don't think watching a lot of Come Dine With Me counts. Whatever I do in my graduate life, I will never ever be the future king/queen of the United Kingdom. When Mr Disorientated Graduate and I marry next year, it certainly won't be in Westminster Abbey. (We can't even afford flowers for the church, let alone trees!)

Still, it could be argued that the education has very little to do with it. This notion that kings need to be educated is a very new one. If you'd told William the Conquerer that he would have been a better monarch with a politics A-Level, he would have nutted you. William was, rightly or wrongly, born as the future king of Britain in the way I was born was a truculent Northerner; some things are just a quirk of fate. He was the future king before he came to St Andrews and he still is.

Kate's a bit of a problem. I mean, they seem to like each other, and I reckon this is what she wants to do with her life, and it's not my prerogative to argue with another woman's choice. I am a strident feminist, and I don't think that subsuming your will and life to your husband's is necessarily a wise choice, and I also think it's a particularly dim view of the St Andrews woman. We weren't all posh girls, and I certainly didn't go there to get a bloke. Just because I did IS NOT THE POINT. Yet it was her education that got her where she is today.

And deep down, I think that's the really aggrieving thing. I do, in fact, have some similarities to them on a surface level and people therefore assume more similarities, and tend to not believe me when I say that no, I really do work in a office for a small family firm for a small wage and I don't know the queen. No, honestly, I don't!

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