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.