It began the way these things so often do, with me in a state of complete confusion about what we were about to do. The day before, I found out that one of our young colleagues was graduating and that we were going to the event at 11:00. I had also been told that we were to dress up, although that was complicated by the weather since it was snowing again.
11:00 came and went, and I was told we’d leave at 12:00. Ok.
At 12:30 we left the office, and I internally shushed my anxieties about being on time, finding seats, arriving in the middle of a ceremony…all that. Our first stop was across the street into what turned out to be a jewelry shop (Many places have double doorways to keep out the weather, which also make it hard to see in. This, plus the Mongolian signage, make it hard for foreigners to know what kind of business is done inside.) to look for a present. No luck. One of the coworkers left, as she’d been sick. I followed passively, waiting outside as another coworker went into another shop.
At 1:00 three of us got in a taxi and ended up in a nondescript neighborhood where there was a party going on in front of one of the buildings. Out we got — this was the university graduation. A crowd of people, festive bunting, amplified speaking underway, and a vendor selling bouquets and sparkling wine at the entry. There was a big circle of people listening to the proceedings, which included poetry reading, speeches and a Mongolian graduation song that all the people around me joined in singing. The graduates, a mix of social work and literature students, stayed throughout, and their families and friends came by to congratulate them. While the event felt very celebratory, of course, a lot of what was translated for me had to do with the melancholy of leaving classmates and teachers.
After the degrees are awarded, the graduates and close family members go out for lunch. And finally I understood why dressing for the weather was an issue and that there was no particular rush for us to get there: the whole thing is outside, and well-wishers are free to show up, take photos, chat and leave when they want.
(And I realized that I’d again miscalculated about what to wear, as the graduates were very dressed up, and the guests wore pretty much anything. I had on one of my better work outfits, which was A) not like what other people had on, and B) invisible anyway under the coat I didn’t take off.)
Here are some of the graduates. It’s hard to see, but these women take their stilettos seriously, even in daytime. Five- and six-inch heels were typical.