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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

History Exam Reveals An Enterprising Spirit

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In the Soviet era every institute of higher education taught a compulsory, pseudo-scientific course in Communist Party history. My wife Maria, like many students, hated the class and was none too fond of her teacher, a dim-witted woman the students called "Auntie Sonya." All you had to do to get a good grade was to give a couple of presentations during the seminar summarizing something out of Lenin's collected works. If you failed the course, you could kiss your stipend goodbye. Auntie Sonya did her best to terrify the students by telling them that an official from the party committee -- more powerful in those days than any dean -- would turn up for the exam.

"When the exam rolled around, Lyova was the first victim," Maria's classmate Sergei said at a recent gathering of old friends. "But the most interesting story is about Maria. She was scared out of her wits the day before the exam. Our friend Nikolai, who served at the front in World War II and was now taking night classes at the institute, felt sorry for her and told her just to memorize the agenda of the 20th Party Congress."

"I took his advice. I had no other choice," Maria said. "On exam day I was standing outside the classroom door, shaking in my boots. Sergei ran up and told me to go inside. I did. I picked an exam ticket and sat down to prepare my answer. Suddenly the door opened and Nikolai entered, wearing a brand-new suit, a white shirt and tie, all borrowed from another student. He said, 'Good afternoon, Sofiya Viktorovna. How are things going?' Auntie Sonya jumped up and offered him the chair next to hers. Nikolai thanked her, sat down and addressed me in an authoritative tone. 'Young lady, it's your turn.' Nikolai took my ticket, read it and set it aside. 'Would you be so kind as to tell us when the historic 20th Party Congress took place, and what was on the agenda?' I answered without hesitation. 'Excellent,' Nikolai said with a smile. He then turned to Auntie Sonya. 'And thank you for your excellent instruction.' Then he rose to go. 'I hate to leave, but I have a thousand things to do.' Auntie Sonya wrote 'excellent' in my record book, and I bounded out of the room.

"I told you someone would come from the party committee," Auntie Sonya said. But a student who was still in the classroom blurted out: "What party committee? That was a night school student." Auntie Sonya turned red as a beet, and the smile disappeared from her face.

Nikolai was never punished. No one even came looking for him. Apparently Auntie Sonya figured that she would look the fool more than anyone else in this situation.

These days enterprising Nikolai runs a large joint venture. It seems that Auntie Sonya's socialist sermons didn't entirely sink in.

Vladislav Schnitzer is a pensioner and freelance journalist living in Moscow.