To Moscow State University for St. Tatiana’s Day, the Students’ Holiday!
By Dorothy Davis
St. Tatiana’s Day, the Students’ Holiday—a fitting time for Education Update to be in Russia. Pamela Howell, my childhood friend had been in Russia since July with her husband, Professor Robert Howell of SUNY-Albany, at Moscow State University (MSU) on a Fulbright, had invited me to come visit, so I did!
St. Tatiana’s Day commemorates the founding of Moscow State University by Empress Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great, with a January 25, 1755 edict. It wasn’t her idea, however. She had been talked into it by her wealthy young lover and favorite, Count Ivan Shuvalov, a patron of education and the fine arts. He had been talked into it by chemistry professor and Russian Renaissance man Mikhail Lomonosov. Despite (or maybe because of?) being a well-known paramour, Shuvalov wanted to honor his dear mother, Tatiana Rodionovna, so he arranged for the edict to be signed on her name day. Her day has been celebrated ever since at MSU, and a few years ago became a holiday for all Russian students.
When Pam and I arrived on the Big Day excited students were waving blue banners on the wide front steps of the Stalin-era landmark that is MSU’s main building. After a quick visit to the SUNY/MSU Center, we traipsed through falling snow to the afternoon event.
Crowds of students lined a path leading from a statue of Founder Lomonosov, a small “flame of knowledge” at his feet, to the large Neo-Classical style library, built in 2005 for MSU’s 250th anniversary. The students waved bright banners, sang, or yelled excitedly, anticipating the arrival of—not Billy Joel, Tom Cruise or Obama but—the Rector (President) of MSU, Dr. Victor A. Sadovnichy! When he finally arrived the cheering students along with Moscow media with TV cameras, microphones, flashing lights, mobbed him, all took off in a headlong dash with someone carrying the small flame of knowledge from the Founder’s feet to ignite another flame of knowledge at the feet of a statue of Shuvalov, and then up the library steps they all went while a great, loud taped Russian chorus sang “Gaudeamus Igitur,” while students dressed as Tsar Elizabeth, lover Shuvalov and Lomonosov in 18th Century garb mingled with the throng, as many brightly colored balloons flew into the air over the library symbolizing the union of all the MSU departments and students and their desire to create something great together, while the Rector congratulated the students on the birthday of their fine university and invited them to have some Medovukha (honey mead) donated by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, among other things a beekeeper. The celebration marked the end of exams and the beginning of winter break.
Massive security had taken over the main building. Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister, soon to be voted President, would be giving a speech. The special invitation-only assembly, held in the over-the-top gorgeous Stalin-era auditorium, also featured an address by Rector Sadovnichy, choral songs, and a lively student folk dancing group from Arkangelsk, the birthplace of Founder Lomonosov.
The reception after the assembly, was in a large room in the library filled with numbered tables, laden with food and drink. Every guest was assigned to one and all stood passing plates of zakuski (appetizers) and pouring each other drinks, often shots of vodka. Some of the delicious food served: salmon and sturgeon (white fish), Russian salad, green salad, beet salad, herring, jellied meat and fish, little piroshki, cheeses, smoked beef, pork and salamis. The main course: different types of barbecue, chicken on a skewer, then coffee, tea, desserts, lots of fruit. For drinks: excellent vodka, red and white wine, still and sparkling water, fruit juices. This was a typical reception, not a dinner!
At the head table the Rector and other dignitaries stood raising their glasses in toast after toast in honor of St. Tatiana’s Day. Most, I was told, repeated that MSU was the best university in Russia! At that moment, on my second night in Russia, I couldn’t help but agree.#