Last Friday night found me not in the enclaves of Chicago Prime, swopping salacious gossip with anyone and everyone; but after a frenetic day running around Moscow from client to client, I decided to call it a day and watch the quintessential English sport, cricket, at home. The match having finished, I replenished my wine glass (not for the first time, I must admit, but the cognoscenti would hardly raise an eyebrow at this information!) and started listening to some soothing music. My reverie was interrupted by an sms from the esteemed Dean of Moscow State University (MSLU), Ksenia Golubina inviting me to attend one of the many Graduation Days they had going on. This one was particularly poignant for me as one of my student groups I had been teaching were set to graduate on this exact occasion – I needed no second invitation or persuasion to attend.
I arrived five minutes before kick-off feeling slightly dishevelled due to my rushing to get there on time, and Ksenia was waiting for me with a directive to go and grab a front row seat which were reserved for the professors and any other dignitaries present. The assembly hall was packed to the rafters with several hundred students and parents, the latter in eager anticipation of their respective offspring receiving their coveted diplomas. The air conditioning appeared not to be functioning and soon sweat was pouring off people, though some had brought fans with them which were put to good use – obviously this wasn’t their first such ceremony. Thankfully a staff member brought a merciful end to our suffering, who opened a couple of doors to provide a refreshing draught. Ksenia then strode purposefully to the stage and lectern and introduced the proceedings to us.
After her warm words we were invited to stand for the Russian national anthem which was sung with great gusto by all and sundry. This was followed by an exquisite academic song which was sung quite beautifully by the university choir, and was of such high standard it wouldn’t have been out of place beside the Vienna Boy’s Choir. Even more amazing, it was in Latin, and to my utter incredulity, several girls around me were singing along to it without even looking at the words up on the giant screen! This would simply not happen in the UK. We then heard from the Rector who made a heartfelt and congratulatory speech to all the students, and hard on its heels followed a witty and well-constructed poem by the main Administrator, Svetlana Andreeva, which concluded to enthusiastic laughter and applause. I have to thank Svetlana profusely as she provided me with some important background information to the next song which was the MSLU song – an utterly ethereal and sublime offering that floated down upon us like an angel from heaven. The lyrics were by Sergey Fillipovich Goncharenko, a famous poet and translator as well as an expert in Hispanic studies who graduated ‘cum laude’ from the Moscow State Institute of Foreign Languages. He was the deputy Rector at MSLU as well as being a professor at the Literary Institute named after Maxim Gorky. Svetlana herself met him and presented her own research paper to him as it was based on poetry and she used his thesis on poetry in her research. She also attended his funeral which had a massive turnout, with the Cuban and Spanish Ambassadors paying their respects, such was his impact.
When they played the MSLU song, students once again, were singing along to it with great love and affection, and I was getting carried along in a tide of emotion. These are moments the students will never forget and nor will I as I adore such pomp and ceremony. I spoke to some of the students afterwards and they were all well aware of the origins of this composition, demonstrating how much more Russians are acquainted with their history than we in the UK are. I would actually go as far to say that many well-educated Russians know a good deal more about our own history than we ourselves do, though it shames me to say so. After the music had ended, we came to the real deal: the handing out of the diplomas that had been worked so hard for during these last four years. For the students who had strived so earnestly this was the ‘piece de resistance’ of the day.
Most of them were clad in mortars, looking extremely erudite, as well as looking ever so fetching in colourful dresses. Ksenia did the roll call of names and I observed varying degrees (excuse the double entendre) of vociferous cheers indicating the popularity of each student in her class when each respective recipient had their names read out. The Rector handed them their hard-earned diplomas and they were then meant to exit stage door left- literally! However, caught up in the excitement of the moment, they posed for photos from their friends and classmates (and who could blame them?) and had to shooed along with urgency to get their diplomas officially signed, and then schlepp back surreptitiously into the Assembly Hall. It struck me that about 85% of the students receiving their diplomas were ladies, and I also asked Ksenia what percentage of the students would come back next year to do a Master’s degree, and was reliably informed that nearly 30% return, which is a great advertisement for this thoroughly eclectic Institution!
We were then royally entertained by various students strutting their stuff on the singing floor. One performer in particular was verging on raunchy, but no one seemed to mind as summer holidays were just around the corner so an early ‘holiday hat’ could easily be forgiven. These performances were sometimes accompanied by a backdrop of various students from various countries furthering their language skills. All too soon, it came to an end, but I had been totally immersed in a cacophony of applause from the get-go and then had a rendezvous with my students who demanded a photo call with myself and the University’s hierarchy. Having endured a litany of complaints during their last year about their brutal schedule, I was ever so proud to see all the students, and especially mine, clutching their richly earned diplomas and it reminded me of Julius Caesar’s musings from around 47 BC when he uttered the immortal words: ‘Veni, Vidi, Vici’- ‘I came, I saw, I conquered;’ and this they have done with drive, determination and damned hard work. My congratulations to you all!