A Nation Begins to Heal

Last week was a tough week for Scottish island mum.  The lead up to the referendum for independence in Scotland has been a testing time.  Scottish island mum has been fire fighting increasingly aggressive communications for weeks and feeling a general sense of disappointment.  Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and that will form a view that will take them to the ballot box.  I have lost count of how many times I have been asked how I was going to vote.  My answer remains the same;  that was between me and the ballot box.  It is not fear or cowardice that prevents me sharing my view.  It is about my own internal debates and my right for privacy.  I was disappointed with the behaviour of many and I am not afraid to say that.  The rising level of aggression suggested that people had separated themselves from a mutual respect for the views of others.  I will never sign up to that interpretation of democracy and I was glad when the process was over.

Regular readers will know that Scottish island mum was asked for her review of the white paper from the SNP that outlined their vision for an independent Scotland.  There was some good stuff in there but there was also some very worrying things that leapt out at me.  Firstly, I was expecting the underpinning to be one of aspiration but this was lacking in almost every section.  Sadly the authors had fallen into a negative trap and became pre-occupied with the English systems that they wanted to divorce themselves from.  With successful countries like Finland to learn from I couldn’t help feeling that they had missed a massive opportunity.  But there was enough good stuff to engage me with the campaign that developed from this paper.

I remained engaged throughout even when the beginnings of disappointment began to creep in.  Buddhism as taught me a huge amount about compassion and I drew on that in the final days.  There was always going to be disappointment and it was always going to hurt.  For many the result was shattering and they now begin a long process of healing.  I want the nation to heal though and I want it to recover its sense of dignity and pride.

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Yesterday I attended a whole day of skills workshops on the island.  Many islanders gave up their time to share their skills with others and there was a steady flow of people all day.  From floristry to bike maintenance and everything in between was shared and there was much chat, tea and laughter.  Scottish island mum shared her passion for flowers and sewing and took little opportunities to look round the room.  The gentle sense of healing was palpable and it made me smile both inside and out.

If I have one wish it is that we learn from the referendum and I am quite sure where the source of that learning is located.  I have the complete honour of working wit lots of young people.  The day before the vote I listened to a conversation by a groupf of young people – some of them were eligible to vote and some were too young.  It mattered not as they discussed the issues in a measured, reflective  and calm way.  They demonstrated enormous respect for each other and I was overwhelmed by a sense of pride.  Young people were a massive part of the voting process and what we have ignited in them should never die out.  I fear that as the media portrays a new titanic struggle between Scotland and England to secure what was promised by the UK government we will lose this opportunity to learn.  I have already written to Alex Salmond about this massive opportunity and if you agree a wee note from you would be most welcome.    You can contact him HERE.

So as a small nation begins its recovery I am always keen to hear from others on any of the topics touched on by this article.  I am particularly keen to learn from people who live in other nations and their experiences of working collaboratively and/or independently.  This is the last time that Scottish island mum will comment directly on the referendum process in the hope that moving forward is supported by great compassion and increasing belief.  Blessings to each and every one of you.

Speak soon,

Scottish island mum.  xx





Graduating Moments

It was a collection of moments that will stay with me forever.  Seated in Lincoln Cathedral waiting for my daughter to graduate gave me time to reflect on just what was about to happen.  In my previous life as an academic I have graduated lots of students and it always felt like a complete privilege to be part of their moment.  They would come to me and wait for their name to be called and many of them would be trembling.  That  short walk turns them from a student to a graduate and from then on life will never be the same.  The achievement is profound and I could always see the sense of pride in the photos taken after the ceremony.

graduation 040This ceremony was always going to be different as this was all about Molly.  I instinctively knew she wouldn’t be trembling and as she came into view at the side of the stage I recognise this new version of her.  A version that is happier in her skin than ever before and I version that is filled with self belief.  Molly’s journey to university was not typical as her qualifications were gained through, largely, self study.  She was well prepared for her degree studies and quickly established an upper second class profile which she managed to maintain for all three years.  Now graduating with a BSc in Conservation Biology she is ready to start tackling the very real issues of saving endangered species.  This is Molly’s calling and it has always been this way.  So her short walk meant something more than just becoming a graduate.  Her walk signalled that she is ready to play her part and the sense of achievement was thus heightened.  Only a dozen or so students graduated from that course but I watched all of them closely and offered a gentle blessing for each of them.  These are the people that are going to change the world and make it a better place.  These are the people that are going to step up and speak up for creatures that humans have neglected and endangered.  They represent part of the apology for what we have done to creatures from all over the world.

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For Molly the future will become a continuation of her passion for field research that serves to illuminate the issues and begins to present the solution.  It would not be possible to be more proud.  It would not be possible to feel more humble.  Immediately after Molly came her lovely man, Scott.  Scott is a communicator both in the spoken and written word and I feel sure that his impact will also be felt widely.  He will be the voice that makes us all sit up and pay attention.  His words will have meaning and his contributions will make a lasting difference.  I was fortunate to sit next to his mother during the ceremony and it was a time well shared.

As they walked down the aisle in the centre of the cathedral we instinctively knew we were witnessing the future.  These science graduates all graduated with degrees that will help them make a difference.  From engineering to conservation; all were valid.

In a world where degrees are common currency the choice of study becomes even more important.  These students all chose wisely and as they streamed out of the darkness of the cathedral building into the light of a beautiful autumn day I just smiled.  It was an honour to share these moments with them and their families.  Graduating is about stepping forward knowing that you have some serious tools in your toolbox that should enable you to live a life you have imagined.  I can hope for nothing more than that for each and every one of them.

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Molly’s wonderful girlfriends all graduated together and as they all take their first fully fledged steps I was left on the side admiring them.  As young women their impact is potentially unlimited.  They are a new generation of women who seem so mature and connected with their world.  They have remained the best of friends throughout their three years and they should be proud of that.  They have supported each other every step of the way and so they graduated together with beauty shining out of them.

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Pete and I met some of Scott’s family on this most special of days and they were all an absolute delight.  His mum, Debbie, and her partner, Fay, spent the most time with me and we shared some laughter and some tears.  I am grateful that Fay remembered the tissues.  I didn’t know these women before today but something tells me that we were destined to meet as we discovered just how much we have in common.  I am taking my job of ensuring Scott is happy on the island very seriously.  He is completely adorable and when I met his family I could see why.   Molly and Scott navigated their way through their day as they always do ensuring that every moment was bottled.  They created  yet more wonderful memories.

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So, as Molly and all her friends move forward they do so surrounded by much love and admiration.  Molly’s journey will now continue as she takes some time out to decide her next move.  Whatever she decides to do I know it will involve animals and I know it will make a difference.  She is our darling girl and we love her very much.

Congratulations Molly, Scott and the girls!

Much love

Scottish island mum xxxxxxx

The New Student Experience

This weekend sees the beginning of young people leaving their nest and migrating to universities across the country.  It is an exciting time but it also comes with some considerable anxiety.  I went to university many moons ago and then I was incredibly fortunate to have an academic career for over 10 years with the University of Winchester.  Thus I have interviewed thousands of prospective students and guided hundreds through their first semester and onwards.  Beyond that my daughter left the nest in 2011 to study Conservation Biology at the University of Lincoln.  This coming week we are off to Lincoln for her graduation ceremony.

For many years I have had the joy of working with a range of young people applying for university and I had often written about it.  However, I have not taken the time out to write about the experiences I have at the stage when the nest is being emptied a little.  There are, of course, two different sets of experiences – that of the new student and that of the family, especially parents, left behind.  I will try to reflect on both and hope that my commentary is of some use.

mollyLet us start with the new student.  It is something you will have been looking forward to for quite a while and this means you will be excited and that is a delight in itself.  That excitement will carry you through Fresher’s week  where you will spend  time orientating yourself into your new environment and socialising with your new friends.  In my experience first years feed off that excitement for the first month or so but then the vast majority hit a bit of a wall.  This wall is constructed by fatigue and related minor illnesses and a growing feeling that you are missing loved ones back home.  This is a critical time and I used to get dozens of students turn up at my office in tears.  For some students the answer is to go home for the weekend but that might not be possible for all students.  Skype has made a massive difference to the early student experience and I would always encourage students to have as much contact with their family at this time as possible.  It helps to ground you again and move forward knowing that you are very much loved.

Once the new student powers through this stage they often find a new rhythm to their life and things  begins to settle down.  As first assessments become evident the mind is naturally focused and this can only ever be a good thing.  That focus will see you through to your Christmas break when you will be able to recharge and touch base with your roots.  Once the second semester starts many students report that they really feel that they have come along way emotionally and begin to enjoy their first sustained experience of living independently.  Student life continues within this more measured framework until the final year of the course.  This final year is a whole new experience and a  big test for the individual.  Focus has to step up to meet the demands of the final year and social opportunities have to take a step back to allow for the student to achieve what they are capable of achieving.  At the very least the third year makes up for 60% of the final degree classification  so it is clear how important this year is.  There is a huge amount of pressure on graduates to ensure they get a good degree classification and a first or upper second class degree will set them up very well.  I would just stress that relevant work experienced is a growing factor in the student’s profile.  Molly volunteered across five different conservation contexts and I am quite convinced that it is this experience that sets he apart.  Her upper second class degree will play its part as well and, of course, we are very proud parents.

Max, George & Molly on a visit to the stones.

Let us look to the experience of the family, especially the parents, back at the nest.  It is normal to go through some very strong emotions and even though I knew they were coming they still affected me greatly.  I missed Molly the instance we left her at her student halls and for the first few weeks I did pass through some dark times.  That said these dark times were balanced with excitement about all her new experiences and growing pride at how she was handling it all.  Molly couldn’t really pop home to the island from Lincoln so we went to her instead to celebrate her birthday in the November.  That was a watershed time for us as parents because we could see for ourselves how well she was settled and meet her friends.  These friends all remained close throughout the three year experience and they will all be celebrating together later this week.  These friendships have been vital to Molly’s undergraduate experience and I am sure she has made friends that will last a life time.  Once I got used to Molly being away I was absolutely fine and you will be too!  Hearing all Molly’s news was always a delight and I learnt to let her grow in her new situation and did quite well at resisting interfering.  The only challenging times came when she was ill but they were always going to be difficult.  I always told myself that if I was needed I would be there but thankfully her wonderful friends took my place and all was well.

molly and friendsI would just like to say that not all students find themselves on a course that they enjoy.  It is very common for students to want to switch courses and as long as they do that within the first semester it is usually quite straightforward.  If this occurs my advice is to work together to find the right solution and accept that this is part of the process for many students.

So, I hope that these musing and reflections have been of some use.  To parents I would always advise ‘keep busy’ and you will be absolutely fine and to new students I would always advise ‘make friends, sleep and eat well and all will be fine.’  If things are not fine seek out your personal tutor as they will be able to help you considerably.  You are never alone at university and there are lots of people available to help.

brodick castle july 11 051I wish all new students the very best of experiences and I am sending a virtual hug to all the parents of new students out there.  As we prepare for the inevitable tears of joy later in the week and the immense feeling of pride I will keep you all in my thoughts. 

Love to all.

Speak soon.  xx