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From the Annals of Campus Characters


Two years ago,
Blue and White writer Amanda Erickson presciently profiled ’08 valedictorian Maxim Pinkovskiy. But don’t show this article to your parents–they’ll probably trade you back to the stork for a child like Maxim.

“He’s always right. Not almost always. Always,” says his former Professor Xavier Sala-i-Martin.

Every student in his macro class last year knows his name, and most perk up slightly at its mention. Maxim Pinkovskiy, C’08, was “that kid.”

“He always sat in the front,” one student quickly replied when I asked him what he knew about Maxim. “Always answering everything.”

Some imitate his nasal voice, his plunking, Russian, almost-sounds-put-on accent, and the way he bobs his head as he speaks. Some immediately bring up his white loafers or his pants, which reach midway up his chest.

But while Pinkovskiy shares many of the characteristics of “that kid” from classrooms far and wide, he isn’t another über-driven Columbian looking to get ahead. When we meet, he pulls out my chair for me before sitting down and asks me how my classes are going. He is skinny and pale, with soft brown hair. And when he talks about classes or about books, he reminds me of a kid in a candy store, trying to describe everything he’s seeing. The first time we meet, he wears sweats (pulled way up), a plaid button-down shirt, and big round glasses.

What drives Pinkovskiy is not his hope to secure a summer internship at Morgan Stanley, or a full-time job on Wall Street, but his grandmother, whom he talks about in an almost reverential voice. It was her encouragement that pushed him to do well all through school in Park Slope, where he grew up after emigrating from St. Petersburg when he was seven.

“She never put too much pressure on me,” he said. When he would get a bad grade, “she would say, ‘It’s going to be better next time.'”

Pinkovskiy’s mother is a math teacher, and his father is a computer programmer. When he was younger, he remembers sitting with his mother learning about math. “She always made things fun, whether we were learning about right angles or anything else.”

Some of his fondest childhood memories are spending Friday afternoons with his father, playing with (and later learning how to design) computer programs. “He still teaches me things,” he said. “They both do. And sometimes now I teach them something new too.”

And he has plenty of time to teach. While many of his fellow students pride themselves on their independence, Pinkovskiy spends every weekend home in Brooklyn. It’s not that his parents are forcing him to do so, a fact he stresses more than once. “I don’t want to be one of those students who only sees his family for Thanksgiving and Christmas,” he said.

While he tells me in detail about each class he is taking, he struggles to come up with stories about sneaking into the West End or playing assassins. He is not a member of any of Columbia’s clubs or activities. Friends he mentions fall into two groups: students from class study groups or former professors.

Though he is only a sophomore, Pinkovskiy, who is already taking graduate classes, wants to go to grad school, get his Ph.D. in economics, and work on big problems like his role model, Sala-i-Martin, does. But his lofty goals are tempered with more traditional hopes. He wants to one day settle down, get married, and have children. If possible, he says, he would like to live in Brooklyn, near his family.

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25 Comments

  • This says:

    @This is too cute for words. I was smiling from ear to ear, in spite of myself, while I read it.

    Yes, I’m sure many of us wish we could BE him, but at the same time, he seems to make himself impossible to hate.

  • hmmm says:

    @hmmm it appears all of the lamenting for old bwog, and trashing of new bwog, is at least somewhat founded. the writing apparently used to be way better.

  • that is from says:

    @that is from That is from the Blue and White, the literary magazine, which still exists. Old bwog didn’t do things like that either – that is the magazine. See the sidebar if you want to read it.

    1. also says:

      @also amanda erickson is a darn good writer

      1. and says:

        @and she mixes a damn good Long Island iced tea.

  • aww says:

    @aww Such a sweet story. Very nice.

  • timestwo says:

    @timestwo awwww. i fully expected to totally hate this guy but i want to give him a hug.

  • sounds like a says:

    @sounds like a really genuine guy. go forth and fix this troubled world please Maxim

  • nono says:

    @nono so sweet. thank you.

  • hmm says:

    @hmm the “boy genius” thing didn’t go over as well in seidel’s joyce class, I recall. too bad you can’t “be right every time” in literature. still, it was cute as a button to see him make the attempt anyway.

    1. failure says:

      @failure lol @ pathetic attempt to patronize this genius. i hope it made you feel slightly less inadequate nonetheless.

  • CC2009 says:

    @CC2009 I’m pretty proud to be at the same school as this guy. I feel smart by association.

  • SEAS2009 says:

    @SEAS2009 I echo commenter #10.

    I need to meet more kids who genuinely love learning.

  • This guy says:

    @This guy deserves everyone’s respect. While there’s no way that most of us are as smart as him or as dedicated to our studies I personally have to say that I wouldn’t trade our lives.

    He’ll do very well in life but the second to last paragraph about friends and getting involved on campus makes me wonder. Columbia offers more than just a stellar education, something Maxim obviously took full advantage of.

    I wanna take him for a drink.

  • Jon Cioschi says:

    @Jon Cioschi Truly deserved accolade. Maxim’s love for learning and genuine kindness have definitely been inspirational for me since we were neighbors freshman year in John Jay.

  • Sprinkles says:

    @Sprinkles This dude is going to change the world.

  • i wonder says:

    @i wonder was he the first person to find alma mater’s owl?

  • random says:

    @random He’s sounds like a really nice guy, but I wouldn’t go out to bars with him.

  • oh my god says:

    @oh my god he’s adorable

  • ummmmmmm says:

    @ummmmmmm how is he a sophomore and CC 08?

  • because says:

    @because the article was written two years ago. go figure.

  • cc 08 says:

    @cc 08 Maxim is a really nice guy, he’s very smart and he has good intentions. I am extremely happy for him, and proud that he represents my class as valedictorian.

  • I'm proud that Maxim says:

    @I'm proud that Maxim is representing our class!

  • who's says:

    @who's the salutatorian?

  • bob dole says:

    @bob dole i hate this guy so much

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