On Saturday, 16 May, shortly after the kids and I had returned to the apartment from our trip to Sibiu, Melinda Pleşcan called to invite me to ride with her to our Englishline students' graduation ceremony at the Auditorium Maximum in the central downtown building of Universitatea Babeş-Bolyai. I had planned to walk, as it is only about half a mile (750 m) from the apartment, but I gladly accepted Meli's invitation. (Any five minutes with this charming lady is not wisely refused.)
As soon as we entered the buildng, we saw the about-to-be graduates in their caps and gowns, lining up in the foyer. They saw Melinda and me, and spontaneously applauded as we passed by. (Clearly, they agree with me about Melinda.)
Then, in the grand hall itself, we were guided to the front row, where Monica Zaharie was already seated. I do not know that she had saved us seats, but there were two available, so we sat with her. The autumn's gang of three was reunited at the end. It seemed fitting.
Then, I saw Moni's notes. She had prepared her remarks. Oh, oh.
I had been told that I would be expected to say a few words at the ceremony, as, like Monica Zaharie, I had been voted one of the Englishline's "Dearest Professors," which is a rough translation of the Romanian words "decan suflet," which mean, literally, "soul dean." It was a wonderful thing. (And Melinda, too, received the same honor at the Faculty of Business, where she taught in the spring.) I was feeling warm feelings for my Operations Management and Labor Management students. But what was I going to say? And would I be called to say it from the stage, to all the students and parents?
Then, as is so often the case, Prof. Mihaela Luţaş came to my rescue. She came down the row and welcomed the three of us, then asked if she could introduce me as "her best American friend." I told her to do so if she liked, but that I would be trying not to be too personal in my remarks. I felt more confident. One oratorial decision was made.
Then Mihaela and Monica were called to sit on the stage, and the Fonzie of the management class, Flaviu Petean and the lovely finance major and class president, Oana-Maria Pop took over as Master and Mistress of Ceremonies. For the parents' and grandparents' sake, the ceremony was conducted chiefly in Romanian. The first person introduced was Prodeacon Luţaş, then Monica Z. representing the Management program, then her counterpart from the Finance program. Each made short remarks, well received by the students and by the audience. Then a list of all the professors the students had studied under at UBB was read, singling out those who were voted "Soul Deans." And, in spite of my American grading structure, my insistence on proper citations, my insisting that the students buy their cases from HBS, etc., I was so-named and my name was applauded by the graduates. I felt a deep emotion, but I held my composure. I knew I was about to have to speak.
The first "dearest professor" to address the group did so on a recording, in English, from a far land. I heard he was in China. He gave what would have been an eloquent graduation speech, had it been the graduation speech. But it was a bit too long for an English speech to a Romanian audience. "Keep yours brief," I said to myself. Another decision made. It was coming together.
So, my turn came. As I had just come home that day from Sibiu, where I had delivered a talk at a roundtable on "Is the United States an appropriate model for Romanian Democracy," I was tempted to repeat that five-minute talk. But I decided to wing it, instead. As best I can remember, I said,
"Hello, everyone.I went on to recognize MC Flaviu Petean for his natural leadership, which I predicted would one day make him President of Romania (The first Maramuresian president?). Then I closed by reminding my students of the definition of "businesslike" that I learned many years ago from a Chinese fortune cookie:
When I first came to Cluj last September, I arrived in a car (auto, maşina) that I had bought in Stuttgart. In our family, we give our cars names, and I had named my car Klaus. I drove east through Austria and Hungary to Budapest, then on to Cluj. When I arrived here, I saw a sign welcoming me (and my car) to "Cluj, Kolosvar, Klausenburg." It was a coincidence. It was perfect. And it set a pattern for my year here at UBB. There have been a great many coincidences, and each has turned out to be perfect.
That brings me to the first thing that I want to say to you graduates, and to all the Romanians in the Hall. I have been asked a hundred times when I have met you and other Romanians, "Do you like Romania?" or "Do you really like Romania?"
I love Romania. [The audience applauded, so I did not add what I wanted to add: "You are a smart, loving, caring, hard-working, generous, and justly proud people with great traditions, fascinating history and diversity, strong religion and instinctive hospitality. You are willing to go out of your way for each other and for a stranger from afar. You have made me welcome beyond my fondest dreams, and for the rest of my life I shall consider many of you my personal friends."]
And [ I continued], if my time here brings about no other change, I want you all to change your question of foreign visitors. Please, stop asking, "Do you like Romania?" I want from now on to be asked, "Do you like Romania as much as I do?"
"Businesslike: calm, factual, clear, brief, and honest."If you live like that, you won't go far wrong.
With Dora Faur and Alex Mican, of the Bucovina and Easter posts.