1996 February 12

Leonid Isidorovich Mil’gram

The students present Milligram with a bust of him as Caesar

As an American teenager at the tail-end of the Cold War, I was shocked and embarrassed to discover the depth of goodwill Russians had for Americans. Merely on the basis of my nationality, I was accepted unquestioningly and with open arms; all the Russians I met were somehow able to overlook the minor differences of culture, history, and government to see the basic kinship of humanity. I am not sure most Americans shared this talent. Perhaps there is too much of Missouri in us; we suspect the worst until we're shown otherwise. That's why I was so glad to see that B-CC student on TV: Every person in the exchange program bridges some of the distance between our two countries.

Did I say unquestioningly? I should clarify. Alec and Liza Guroff and I would probably never have entered this strange new world had their father not had a friend who was a friend of Leonid Isidorovich Mil'gram. And if one thing was clear, it was that the director of School 45 had questions. Who were we? Why did we want to enter his school? Would we corrupt the impressionable minds of his young charges? Did we know that he, Mil'gram, had first-hand knowledge of American teenagers—from seeing Class of 1984 while on vacation in Italy?

Of course, it was a case of «the director doth protest too much,» and soon we realized how fortunate we were to have found this particular school with this director. «The style of a school,» reports an article in the 1985 Jan 24 issue of Izvestiya, «its soul, its pedagogical faith—that is what the director is.» As the same article points out,

Each generation of students and parents names all good schools after their directors. Who among older Muscovites does not know Novikov's school or Mostovii's? Or from today's, the schools of Yegorova and Mil'gram?

We didn't—but we quickly discovered that the reputations of both school and director were fully deserved.

One of the great moments of 10 B's graduation in June of 1987 was the class's gift to Leonid Isidorovich—a bust of the director as Caesar. The entire auditorium of faculty and graduating students laughed and clapped and shouted in appreciation. At last we knew why we jumped to attention when Mil'gram paid a surprise visit to the classroom. Surely that laurel wreath had always graced his brow; how could we have missed it before?