The college has welcomed its new postgraduate and undergraduate students, and we wish them all a long and happy association with Selwyn.
The health emergency required some creative thinking about the taking of matriculation photographs. We did this by gathering students together in Old Court in their households – typically a group of between 6 and 8 students who are allowed to mix without social distancing - and then spreading the clusters of people across the lawn with at least 2m between each one. This is how it looked for the undergraduates.
The students were then joined at the front of the cohort by (left to right) the head porter; the praelector; the master; the senior tutor and the chaplain.
And this is the final result. One set of photos was taken with face coverings off, and one with masks on.
There was also the opportunity for the occasional selfie within a household grouping…
Below is the address by the master, Roger Mosey, for our incoming students.
"Every year we welcome students, and I’ve been master of the college since 2013 – so this is actually the eighth time I’ve done so… But I promise you: never have I done so with such conviction, and such a heartfelt appreciation for the fact that you’re here. As a generation of students, you have had a uniquely tough experience – so you’re already special to us, and we can’t wait to get to know you better.
You are all equally welcome; but I do want to single out those who have travelled far from their homes to come to Cambridge. We’re honoured that you chose this university, and we’d thrilled that you’re now part of our community. We are resolutely and proudly and forever international in our outlook. We are British, we are European, we are citizens of the world and everyone is welcome here.
During your induction, you’re going to hear quite a lot about Covid and health – so I’m not going to dwell on it myself. But I have one simple message, and that is: we have it in our control either to get it right by putting safety first – or to put our community at risk by cutting corners and doing daft things. If we want to bring about a local lockdown, we can see here and abroad how to do it. But I’ve been hugely encouraged by the responsibility shown so far by Selwyn students; and therefore all I ask is that you continue that way.
What I want to focus on instead is the nature of the college you’re joining and what kind of community we are. You’ll probably know some of the basic facts. We were founded in 1882 at the height of the Victorian age – rather churchy in our original conception, but over the decades we became a regular full service Cambridge college, with full status from 1958.
We like to say we’re about two things: being friendly, but also with the highest academic standards. The two go together. There is no point being chummy if we’re intellectually weak as a college; and equally we don’t want this to be one of those arid places where everyone is cooped up in a library or lab and never sees the light of day. We were eighth out of 31 Cambridge colleges in the last league table published in 2019; and if there had been one this year we might have been even higher.
The other things I need to tell you about Selwyn:
We are a charity. It’s a charity with the simple purpose of providing a home for education, learning and research. Therefore we make no profits (indeed, the bursar will tell you that we make a significant operating loss, which is balanced by gifts from kind donors) and we are not a manifestation of the marketization of higher education.
We are democratic. The MCR and JCR are represented both on the college council and on the governing body. This means that if you have issues, they can be represented on the college’s decision making bodies – though the overwhelming majority of concerns are resolved amicably by direct contact through your tutors or supervisors or via the college staff.
We are not hierarchical, and we are not posh: there is an old stereotype of Cambridge which is all about May Balls and upper class young people falling over while clutching bottles of champagne – and it is simply not the daily reality of this university. The senior tutor and I and most of the academics here come from regular backgrounds. My parents ran a shop in a tough part of Bradford in Yorkshire, and I know about the battle to survive on low incomes or what it’s like when your family experiences unemployment.
We therefore take all issues of equality and diversity very seriously. Even before the events of this summer, which gave many of us new insights into injustices worldwide, we have had a cast-iron commitment to being a diverse college in which everyone is treated equally and with respect. We have zero tolerance for racism or xenophobia or homophobia or misogyny or any form of discrimination. You have a right here to be who you want to be, and we will support you 100% in achieving that.
We also believe in free speech and open academic debate. The university free speech guidelines, adopted earlier this year with the backing of the student unions, says that this is a place for “robust, challenging, evidence-based and civil debate as a core part of academic inquiry” – and that is why, here in college and across Cambridge, you will sometimes hear views with which you passionately disagree. But, as long as they are civilly expressed, they are part of what allows the best ideas and fresh thinking to emerge.
That points to why it’s important not to let ourselves see our mission at the moment as being dominated by the health emergency. This is a university that has always been about innovation and breaking barriers and transforming human knowledge: Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin walked the streets that you do, and we’ve been home to the greatest lawyers and historians and artists and poets. We are leaders in combatting climate change, and it is on the biomedical campus that you will find world-leading efforts to improve our health.
So most important of all: do not rein in your ambitions. I hope this doesn’t sound arrogant, but I think now – more than ever – the world needs Cambridge thinking, and brains like yours. As politics gets ever more fractious, it requires our respect for data; our interpretations of the rule of law; and our understanding for why some people take a different view of the world to ours.
And the University of Cambridge’s existence for more than 800 years gives us some perspective on the times we live in. This is university that has been through wars and plagues, and revolutions and counter-revolutions; and yet Cambridge has always emerged stronger. It has amplified its voice in Britain and across the world, and it makes our own lives better and richer – but crucially it has transformed the lives of so many people we will never know. That must remain its goal.
So on a day like today which is about new beginnings: I wish you luck and determination and the desire to make a difference. Because the evidence is that you will – and the fellows and staff and I will be with you, every step of the way, to help you succeed."