Monthly Archives: July 2020

50 Years! Where has it gone?

This post appeared in the St. Andrews monthly alumni newsletter, and I’m so proud they chose mine! It’s with great regret that we won’t even get to go to St. Andrews this summer, let alone celebrate 50 years sincce graduating! The post expresses much of how I feel about St. Andrews and life after — my real life:

Valerie Torgerson Waddelove graduated from St Andrews with an MA in Medieval History in 1970. She reflects on the past 50 years since that day, and how COVID-19 has impacted her and her family. 

 
Memories

How can it possibly be 50 years since I graduated? That sunny day is so vivid in my memories – I can still feel the elation, hugging and congratulating friends outside Younger Hall,  meeting parents, feeling such joy that I couldn’t stop smiling, and perhaps shedding tears because we would now go our separate ways.

It is sad, in this singularly important year for me, that I will not be able to visit St Andrews and to participate in a reunion. Perhaps next April we can celebrate with others, enjoying our emergence from social distancing with a renewed desire to reunite personally.

Yes, it’s true and I feel it in my bones, literally: I am now an old woman, and I don’t mind too much. I can still make the cross-continent flight, walk the streets of the old town, stand in the Quad, hear the bells ring, remember going to classes in those buildings, and be flooded with memories – most sweet, some sad. This year, being sequestered in my home, I will have to let memories suffice, since coronavirus has made us all prisoners – fear and anxiety our constant companions. Thankfully because of my many trips to St Andrews, I can mentally visualise the town, and walk it in my mind, see faces young and hopeful, and old people still spry and smiling.

Mostly I feel grateful and uniquely blessed that I found St Andrews and it lives in me. I remember the University and its traditions, the red gown, walking on the pier, Raisin Monday, the Kate Kennedy procession, dances in Younger Hall and the installing of a Rector (what does he/she do anyway?).

I also remember living in Hamilton Hall for three years and the comradeship we developed. I was so excited the day my friend Sheila’s fiancé gave her the Beatles’ White Album – we listened to it twice! I was semi-adopted by her nearby family and enjoyed their kindness. Some of these friendships have endured, while others haven’t. That’s normal. They are all still young in my memories.

St Andrews challenged my mind with its different way of teaching – that is, different from the way we are taught at US universities. It does what universities should do: it teaches students to think more deeply, to spot and question flawed reasoning, to be challenged by peers and teachers in tutorials and to change one’s mind when the evidence leads in a different direction. I hope this hasn’t changed and that students are still learning to develop minds that will remain curious and questioning. Reading the Chronicle leads me to believe that’s true.

I was an American who was supposed to be there for just one year, but my plans changed, new horizons beckoned and I stayed for three to finish my degree. It wasn’t just the University that contributed to that decision. St Andrews itself with all its elements drew me in. I wasn’t in a great place mentally when I was there, and being in Hamilton Hall, watching the sea change daily or several times in a day (especially from my room under the cupola) the rugged ancient rocks, the medieval buildings, the ruins telling of a turbulent past (now serene) – all of these things helped to repair my uneasy soul. My dad died when I was fourteen, and I had previously buried questions about ‘the nature of existence and the hereafter’. It was St Andrews that helped to bring them into focus. I was able to see life as a flow, that we are like grains of sand on the beach: part of something older and greater than ourselves; something beautiful, individual and meaningful – even though we are finite.

St Andrews continues to have that effect: I almost need a yearly visit to recharge my spiritual energy. This year, however, I will have to forgo that visit.

Life after Graduation

My life has also been a surprise to me. I never used my Medieval History degree. But after the stark realisation that I had to earn money while I was living in London with my husband Paul, I then started to write and design publications once we returned to the US. I loved it and am so grateful I worked in a place that allowed me to develop my talents.

Then children came along. I had my first when I was 30, and three more followed within five and a half years. I stayed home with them, not surprisingly, and loved being a mother – even though I wasn’t sure I knew how to do it. They thrived, and when they were old enough, I returned to university and got a master’s degree in Education and in time ended up teaching technology for middle school students who were ‘gifted and talented’ (that just means they were often smarter than me). Besides the normal stuff I learned and taught Photoshop and Illustrator, programming, robotics, and web page design (from scratch) and loved the challenge and the students.

Some things don’t change – come what may

We had just returned from three weeks in Spain (Andalucia) where my youngest daughter now lives when news of the virus in China was emerging. I’m glad we were able to visit her and see Spain before it was locked down. She is a graphic designer, works remotely and loves Spain. Her decision to move there came after walking two Caminos (Camino de Santiago de Compostela). I walked the second one with her. She has given us a new culture and country to explore.

Now the Camino is empty, the beautiful squares eerily quiet, devoid of the usual chatter and laughter of family and friends.

Now I’m old. My wonderful children have grown, and I have 13 grandchildren. We had hoped to travel to Idaho at the end of April to be with my daughter for the birth of her seventh child (our 14th grandchild) but world events will prevent that. In fear of this unseen enemy, family get-togethers on Sunday afternoons are now via Zoom; at least our spread-out family is together, which would rarely happen in ‘real life’. We don’t even see my daughter and her family who live nearby in person.

I love the life I have. I couldn’t have predicted 50 years ago how it would turn out. I do know that St Andrews – the old gray town, the University, my friendships and the view out of my window – will always have a special place in my life. That will not change – come what may.