Valerie Torgerson

Aileen Fyfe
Wednesday 24 August 2022

Valerie Torgerson Waddelove graduated from St Andrews with an MA in Medieval History in 1970. This is an edited extract from her contribution to the Alumni Chronicle in 2020.

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.

Woman student in white mini dress and gown
Valerie Torgerson graduating in 1970

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 [where Anne Wright was warden] 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.

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.

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.

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.

Woman in hiking clothes standing by milestone for Camino de Santiago
Valerie on the Camino to Santiago de Compostella

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.

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