UC Berkeley Computer Science Major and Ultra Marathon Runner Alexander Khazatsky Talks About Defining Moments


What were your middle school and high school experiences like at York Prep?
 
There’s no denying it, when I came to York in eighth grade, I was probably the most socially awkward kid in the school. I had been at my previous school with the same people for five years, and going from there to a new school with entirely new faces was absolutely terrifying. I was too scared to take the initiative in making friends, but luckily for me, I didn’t need to. It was the York community that reached out to me. In fact, my best friends are still the people who took the initiative to invite “that weird new kid” to lunch. High school at York was tough, but thanks to kids like these, those years were some of the best in my life.
 
What was your favorite subject in high school?
 
During high school, math and science were always my favorite subjects. When I entered York, however, I was significantly behind academically due to my previous school’s non-challenging curriculum. This meant I was always playing catch up, as the introduction of new topics required prerequisites that I didn’t have. The only reason I was able to stay afloat was due to incredible teachers, such as Mrs. Povosko, Mr. Preston, and Mr. Misiak, who would stay after school (sometimes for hours) to work with me. Furthermore, my incredible parents always stayed up-to-date on what I was learning in my subjects so that they too could help if needed.
 
Is there a person or defining moment that inspired you at YP to follow the path that you did?
 
This extra support and education regularly led to increased curiosity, which in turn led to what I used to call “my side projects.” These were multi-week ideas/topics that I would research on my own time, create presentations for, and eventually present to the class, all under the guidance of these amazing teachers. Near the time of my graduation, Mrs. Povshko recommended that I look into computer science, as she felt I would enjoy it. One summer course later (MIT’s CS 6.001), I had found my college major. Also, Mrs. Barrish, my English teacher, did so much for me. She is a wonderful person. Not only did she push me academically, but she pushed me to be my best self too. She could always tell when something was bothering me and was always someone I could go. She wasn’t just a teacher, she was a mentor.
 
What advice would you give your high school self?
 
One thing that I never got over until college was an inferiority complex to “the honors kids.” Coming into York academically unprepared, I always felt that even with all my effort, the most I could do was scrape by, let alone “climb the ladder.” I always wanted to make it into the honors classes, and I spent my whole high school career working my way up to them. Because of this, I was always convinced that I was beneath the kids who were in those classes and that my ceiling was their floor. When I got to college, this feeling of inferiority continued...until midterms started rolling in. The new reality that I found at UC Berkeley is that everything is really hard, nobody will ever be smart enough, and everyone is going to fail. The small caveat is that everyone is failing...which actually means no one is failing. It is not uncommon to have exams where the average grade is 40%. This means that regardless of background, everyone is always learning. So, unlike high school, there’s nobody smart enough to ace the exam without studying, and everyone will be working nonstop before the exam. This made me realize that it’s not innate intelligence that matters, but your curiosity and work ethic. Finally, my situation at York became an advantage, and my transition to college was actually not much of a change. If I could tell my high school self anything, I think it would be that it’s not how smart you are, but how hard you work that matters. 
 
How did you choose UC Berkeley as your school of choice? Tell us about your journey there.
 
Reading about colleges online is one thing, but touring them is entirely different. When visiting my accepted schools, I saw beautiful gated campuses, classical buildings, fashionable students, upscale restaurants, and cheery, welcoming college towns. Then I got to UC Berkeley. One of my first encounters on campus was with a crazy man dressed as a dinosaur. I was frantically dodging swarms of students running late to class, with each student looking stranger than the last. I saw one horrendously ugly structure that ironically turned out to be the building for Architectural Studies. A man in a suit, who turned out to be a Computer Science Professor, shot past me on a unicycle. There were countless cafes, yet every single one was cheap and overcrowded with students. I was utterly confused in all but one aspect - where I would be going to college.
 
What are some of your recent projects?
 
My Dad got me into ultramarathon running. However, as I was under 18 in high school, and too busy in college, I never did any official races. I just do it as a hobby. In college, the only way I’ve managed to stick with it is by waking up early and doing it then. It’s also 10x more fun if you manage to drag people along. This is a list of some of my other projects.
 
 
 
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