Traditions have long been a staple of St Andrews culture, events including Gaudie, Raisin, and May Dip playing crucial roles in forging the university’s identity. However, amidst all of this, one tradition is often overlooked: academic weddings. One of St Andrews’ stranger events, attendees will see students act out a faux wedding, complete with fake ministers, a black tie dress code, and the exchanging of vows. This bizarre theatre gives the newlyweds license to create their own academic families, free of sin, in a peculiar reflection of married life.
Yet as academic weddings have risen in popularity, cracks have started to show in the facade of this tradition. It’s an open secret that some families don’t make it to Raisin Sunday and many more wither away soon after, leaving orphaned children behind. Indeed, in some ways, academic weddings are to blame, forcing parents into an impossible cycle of rising expectations and the pressure to deliver at a time when deadlines are all too present. All of this begs the question: what is the point of academic weddings? Are we really celebrating a St Andrews fairy tale or creating impossible fantasies?
To many, an academic wedding is a bright spot on the social calendar. Most weddings occur early on in students' third year, with the majority occurring in the face of upcoming deadlines. In this regard, wedding season is a time for beleaguered students to spend an evening away from the pressures of university life. “That’s a loaded question,” one less enthusiastic groom replied when asked if he felt academic weddings were an opportunity to unwind. “It wasn’t relaxing but it did get me away from my work.” Academic weddings can also be a fun way for students to step away from the formalities of university life. One of the newer aspects of these events is the tendency for guests to dress up in costume, something which is made all too easy by the proximity of many weddings to Halloween.
However, all this pomp and pageantry comes with a cost. Academic weddings are not easy to organise, they require effort from both partners at a time when this is a precious commodity, squeezed ever more by the twin threats of deadlines and Raisin. The kind of academic wedding that has become commonplace in St Andrews has undoubtedly added undue pressure to a tradition that used to be a source of celebration, not stress.
Speaking to several newlyweds, academic weddings sometimes appeared as unnecessary burdens which served only to elevate one’s Instagram profile. Equally prevalent was a worrying pressure to invite an ever-increasing list of guests, resulting in a bloated mess of a ceremony filled with strangers. “It would have been nicer if more of my friends could have made it,” one bride glumly remarked after her academic wedding was scheduled too close to Independent Learning Week, resulting in many of the guests being unable to attend.
Indeed, academic weddings are not a bad tradition by any measure, but there is a creeping tendency to make these events large affairs with a more serious formality that inevitably takes away the charm which made academic weddings an enduring tradition in the first place. Somewhere along the line they have become an institution, an obligation which dominates the university calendar in a way that was never intended.
Photo: Beau Thomas