A month ago today I joined the eager freshers for the annual and traditional Pier Walk. After a year of living and studying in St Andrews, I finally had the opportunity to be officially inaugurated into 600 years of Saint students.
Walking down North Street I felt as though I were living in the pictures I had seen so many times, everywhere since learning of, applying to and arriving in St Andrews. The peer walk is on every page of St Andrews’ website, printed on the Union’s shopping bags, on St Andrews mugs, posted on every students’ Instagram, and of course, heavily talked about and referenced to as one of the most renowned and special traditions existing at this school.
It’s real. Just like the Union is real, and the School of English building is real. There is so much, almost everything, that I always heard of, and was always within a stones throw of me, that I have yet to experience.
Perhaps it’s dramatic of me, and perhaps it’s almost definitely pathetic to admit that once I reached the point in the sea of red where we overlooked the mediaeval castle, Cathedral, pier, and all the red-robed students below and behind me, with townspeople and parents looking at us with quiet, smiling faces, I cried. There is so much power in this event, this practice, this tradition, and I finally got to be a part of it.
Standing between ancient structures and tentative towns-people my friends and I got to appreciate a very different side of town and of this University than before.
Last year, covid and lockdowns created a tremendous amount of animosity between students, staff and the town. Most days I felt at war with others, pleading to sit in my accommodation’s common room alone to watch a lecture; trying to justify adding a seventh person to our picnic with the worries that someone might catch and fine us; restraining myself from fighting back online, or in-person towards provocative, self-righteous political and health-related slander; avoiding eye-contact with towns-members, feeling guilty for being in a place in which I had every right to be; the list goes on.
Walking the pier I felt that it must have been the first time in over a year where the townspeople and school could appreciate the history and tradition of St Andrews once more. We could share in our quiet appreciation, adoration and love for this town again. Although the war against covid is not yet over, the 2021 St Andrews pier walk was certainly a catalyst for normality, and therefore, peace.
The most profound element of peace is the purity that ensues, and the freshers could not have been more perfect to prove this phenomenon.
I stood with three other second-year friends and hundreds of freshers. We listened as they bonded over their shared majors, wondered at the places their new friends travelled from, eagerly created plans to meet each other at their different halls while we watched in awe of their innocence.
The 2021 freshers will never know the ongoing stillness and quiet of St Andrews nights that we lived from late December to mid-April last academic year. They will never know anything but traditions, and a thriving freshers week, and thousands of new comrades at their disposal. They will never know the harshness of hall life. The stress of back-and-forth, ever-changing restrictions and lockdowns affecting social and physical freedoms on campus and in halls. The anxiety, and the depression that ate many of us alive. And thank God this is true.
I watch the bright-eyed freshers thankful for their innocence – they do not need to know or experience for themselves the 2020 second-year’s version of first-year. I entered second year with a deep appreciation for this town, University and its students. The beauty, excitement, opportunity and tradition that embody St Andrews persevered alongside its hardships, and its tenacity has made me love this school and place, to my surprise, more than I could have before.