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MIT fulfills dreams for Kazakh grad

Vitaliy Pereverzev has come a long way from his childhood in Kazakhstan to achieve success in tennis and, finally, at MIT. The electrical engineering and computer science major will graduate Friday.
Vitaliy Pereverzev has come a long way from his childhood in Kazakhstan to achieve success in tennis and, finally, at MIT. The electrical engineering and computer science major will graduate Friday.
Photo / Donna Coveney

When Vitaliy Pereverzev dons his cap and gown on Friday, June 3, he will be fulfilling a dream that began seven years ago when he first emigrated from Kazakhstan to play tennis and study in the United States.

"Growing up I looked up to my father," said Pereverzev whose father holds a Ph.D. in physics. "My dream became to go to MIT."

Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1981, Pereverzev spent most of his childhood either playing tennis or studying. By the time he graduated from high school at 16, he was both the valedictorian and a junior champion tennis player. In the spring of 1998, Pereverzev decided to pack up, leave his family behind in Kazakhstan and go to the Palmer Tennis Academy in Florida.

With very little English, Pereverzev struggled during his first months in the United States. After spending the summer back home, Pereverzev returned to Florida even more determined. Eventually, he became one the top 10 juniors in Florida.

While playing at Palmer, Pereverzev was living with a host family and enrolled in a local high school. He quickly rose to the top there as well, graduating as valedictorian for the second time. When he started to think about schools, his host family encouraged him to look at MIT.

"They told me MIT was the best," said Pereverzev. "I knew it was for me. I thought one day God would give me a chance, and I would be able to get in."

In the meantime, Pereverzev focused his search on state schools with strong tennis programs. He was accepted at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington where he received a full athletic scholarship.

During his sophomore year at North Carolina, Pereverzev learned of the Diversity Visa Lottery, a program through the U.S. Immigration and Nationalization Service committed to diversifying the country. His mother entered the lottery and her name was drawn. The interview for acceptance into the program was scheduled for January 2001 and in December 2000, Perverzev headed home for Christmas.

A couple weeks into his break, Pereverzev learned that the interview had been rescheduled for May 2001 and that he and his family were not allowed to return to the United States until then. While detained, he missed a semester of school and a full season of tennis.

Back in North Carolina, his coach and academic advisors began a letter writing campaign to get him back into the country. Finally, in August 2001--just one month shy of the Sept. 11 attacks--Pereverzev and his family were allowed in. "Had it been just one month later, we never would have been allowed back in the country," he said.

Once his family was with him, and he had permanent resident status, Pereverzev decided to pursue his dream of coming to Cambridge and to MIT. "It was the perfect opportunity."

In May 2002, Pereverzev learned that he had been accepted as a transfer student. He received need-based federal, state and MIT scholarships that have almost fully funded his education.

Over the course of his years at MIT, Pereverzev became the first tennis player from MIT to advance to the national semifinals. Now he is the assistant head coach of the MIT tennis team. "MIT pushed me to the horizons of my ability," he said. "I found the limits, and now I know how much I can carry on my plate."

His interests expanded as well. During his first year at MIT, Pereverzev took a management psychology class, which sparked an interest in business. That interest continued to grow as he spent two summers at internships in New York City, first at Deutsche Bank in Institutional Equity Sales and then at Access Industries Inc., a private equity firm.

At the beginning of May, the electrical engineering and computer science major learned that he had been accepted to Harvard Business School. Eventually, he would like to work on Wall Street in investment banking or credit risk.

Always true to his roots, Pereverzev plans to go back to Kazakhstan eventually to use his skills to help his home country. "I feel very fortunate and I have to share it with others," he said.

Every opportunity has been a blessing, said Pereverzev. "I am extremely grateful to MIT for letting me know where my boundaries are," he said. "I promise to keep expanding them as far as I can."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 1, 2005 (download PDF).

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