Once my colleague Mary showed up from the Home Office in Rindge, things got busy, namely because she is a lot of fun to hang out with, and time flew. So I haven’t had a chance to update on how things went for the graduation ceremony.
The students in this year’s program were quite first-rate, and we haven’t had to make use of Irina and Helen as translators, so we had the good fortune to have 4 teachers in a classroom of 20 students. We made some real progress, especially in the first year university students. They all know English, but they needed practice speaking. So, we spent quite a bit of our time on activities where they had to talk without notes. One of the things we noticed off the bat was that when they were working on such activities, they took the time to write out their “lines” and read them out when it was their turn. Happily, by the end of our time, their confidence level was such that they did not need their cheat sheets.
Franklin Pierce’s president, George Hagerty and VP, Ray Van der Riet came for the graduation ceremony and, with them, the dinners began. Every night, we were entertained by various members of Luhansk Pedagogical University’s administration. The hospitality shown by the University was outstanding and we all appreciated their kind words and fellowship.
The graduation ceremony went off without a hitch, although I had the jitters. The student presentations were simply outstanding. One group of students even performed Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on First” routine, which was a big hit. The mother of one of the girls (Costello) came up to me and thanked me for the great job we did with her daughter. It’s moments like that which make it all worth while.
The next day, we visited a museum dedicated to young Soviet Resistance fighters against the Nazis. It was quite emotional. The displays are very well done and they have numerous artifacts of the young people who gave their lives to stop Germany. Sixteen of the kids (aged 14-22) died by being thrown down a mine shaft. We also visited the spot where they were killed, over which the Soviets put up a beautiful memorial; I really do love Soviet art. Five of the resistance fighters were awarded the honor of “Hero of the Soviet Union” which was the highest honor they could bestow.
One of the highlights of the trip was a picnic organized by one of the Luhansk regional governors. In the morning Ray and I went fishing (actually, we chatted with the governor, while Victor, who is a local businessman did all the fishing) and the rest of the party joined us around 10am. A group of Cossacks joined us, and after some singing and ceremonial vodka drinking, I was made an honorary Cossack by being whipped three times with a horsewhip. It stung, but not too bad. The lead male singer for the Cossacks and I hit it off really well, and we had a good conversation on many topics. There was talk of them visiting Franklin Pierce for the dedication of the Ukrainian Garden, and I hope it works out. I liked these guys.
Since my flight to Rome left at 7am the next morning, we made an early night of it, but I was exhausted anyway. Oksana, my good friend and the Queen of Luhansk Logistics, and Ray say me off at the Luhansk airport for my flight on “Air Coffin” to Kiev, and from there to Rome.