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Searching for Aleksey Vayner

This fall break, I had the opportunity to visit Yale's campus in beautiful New Haven, Conn. There are a number of differences between our Gothic Wonderland and their ivy-laden gates-not the least of which is that the Pi Phis there actually talk to me.

But the other thing is the panhandlers-Yale's campus is crawling with them. Think of the corner of Ninth and Perry, and then imagine that being your whole school! At least here, the undesirables know where they don't belong: that's why they bring Glocks to Partners Place.

But lacking the convenient separation provided by a huge forest or a stone wall, a Yale student is the target of bamboozlement most every day.

Take the man I encountered on the same block on a Sunday night and the following Tuesday afternoon. On Sunday, he had "just [been] sprung from the hospital" and needed money to buy a bus ticket. (In hindsight, the wristband that, at the time, leant credence to his tale could just as easily have come from one of several nearby bars.) By Tuesday, however, he classified himself as homeless, and it was his mother whose medical ailments (the nature of which were vague) he was concerned with.

But aside from these petty con games, there was a far more epic, ambitious act of deception occurring on the very same campus: that of senior Aleksey Vayner.

Vayner became the talk of Wall Street when his job application to several investment banks initiated the "viral" spread of a link to a homemade video. It is entitled "Impossible is Nothing," and opens with an interviewer asking him, "Aleksey, you're known as someone who has studied the principles of personal development for a long time. Applying these principles to yourself, you've coincidentally become a model of personal development and inspiration to many around you.. How do some people like yourself become very proficient in the fields much faster than most?"

Vayner expounds on this question as we see images of him lifting two 140 lb. barbells, delivering a 140 mph tennis serve (the Guinness record is 153 mph) and, of course, breaking a stack of bricks with his bare hands.

His resume is largely fraudulent, listing roles such as CEO of Vayner Capital Management (fake), founder of a charity for children (fake) and author of a book (plagiarized). Fellow Yalies have reported that informally, he has made claims about having to register his hands as deadly weapons when boarding a plane and being one of four people in Connecticut qualified to handle nuclear waste.

Now, whatever psychological affliction Vayner suffers is beyond my expertise (although I did endow a foundation to deal with a similar disorder after summiting Kilimanjaro). But I can't help but think that it simply frees him to act outwardly on a type of self-doubt that must occur to all of us at one point or another.

I needn't remind you of how sweet those of us at "elite" schools are-we hear it (or tell it to ourselves) all the time. But these reminders also reinforce the relative mediocrity of most students at these institutions-I mean, who hasn't started a charity?

I especially understand Vayner's desire to set himself apart in the job frenzy. I imagine that when trying to gain access to the (even more selective) world of top banks, it truly hits home how many people there are with precisely the same pedigree and qualifications as you. And Vayner is certainly not the only one to get creative when applying to jobs-he's just the most daring.

This should make the rest of us even more insecure: We're not only competing against a lot of smart kids, but against the best version of themselves they can dream up and get away with.

Still, the extent of Vayner's self-mythologizing seems to go beyond a strategic ploy to fool his way into a career. It reflects the inner turmoil of one who, according to a profile in Yale's satirical Rumpus, is "ashamed of his numbingly regular existence."

I don't think that's far off. In an environment of high-achievers, an underlying fear of mediocrity is an almost inevitable element.

As for me, I guess it's a good thing I have my book royalties to fall back on.

David Kleban is a Trinity senior. His column runs every other Tuesday.


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