From Dr. Jane's Notebook

From Immigrant to Valedictorian

Not even six years ago, Irina Bochkis arrived with her family from Moldavia, part the former U.S.S.R. Her Father and Mother, Misha and Faina Bochkis, had chosen to make the journey to the United States three years prior to the time of their departure. When the day finally came, the family, including Irina's younger brother, Mark, and her recently deceased grandmother, Raisa Bochkis, left their home in search of a new life with few possessions but many dreams.

Upon arriving in Greensboro, Irina served as the first spokesman for her family, translating with the limited English she had learned in Russian schools. From the very beginning, there was something unique about this 11-year old girl. Though unmistakably Russian, she brought with her a more worldly knowledge than any of us expected.

On a first visit to Aycock Middle School, Irina was to be tested and placed in her classes. I remember wondering how her "straight A" report card would translate into American standards. Never did I imagine that her excellent grades in Moldavian schools would continue to improve in spite of language and other cultural barriers. In seventh grade, 12-year old Irina was asked to take the SATs which qualified her for the Talent Identification Program at Duke University. In all, she spent three of the past summers at Duke studying algebra II, chemistry, and computer science.

Middle school also found her participating in the Mathcounts Program. While a student at Kiser Middle school, her math team went to the State competition. At Greensboro College, she won individual and team awards for her math wizardry. By this time, teachers were beginning to talk about Irina.

Apart from her academic achievements, Irina was the first immigrant to become a Bat

Mitzvah in April, 1993. Beyond Russian and English, she had now mastered Hebrew. In the summer of 1995, she attended the Alexander Muss High School in Israel in Hod Hasharon, and spent time with her relatives who had made their journey to Israel instead of Greensboro.

Lest you think Irina is all work and no play, she has also become active in fencing, enjoys Russian music, figure skating, and is a Star Trek fan. This month, Irina will be recognized at the Senior Awards Day as the Valedictorian of Grimsley High School. Her hard work and studies will have paid off, and also will serve to launch her into future endeavors at Princeton University.

Faina Bochkis, Administrative Assistant for Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) North Carolina, says of her daughter, "since childhood, she was always responsible, eager to learn things, and questioned everything. She started to read at age 4, and was entirely self-taught until her parents realized how quickly she could learn". Both Faina and Misha remember being shocked when their four-year old began reading the newspaper aloud. Irina also enjoyed teaching her younger brother Mark how to read and swim.

Irina describes her goal in life as, "to make a difference using the talents that she has through science. Her aspirations include scientific discoveries which will beneficial to others". One close friend refers to her as another Madame Curie. One way or the other, Irina Bochkis is someone of whom we are exceptionally proud. She is a stronger member of our Jewish community, and is especially active within the New American (Russian-American) community. In the course of this interview, Irina pointed out, "in Russia, we were called Jews; in America, we are called Russians. What unites us all is that we are Jewish and that we take care of each other".

ęCopyright, 1997, 1999, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.

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Last Updated February 27, 1999 by Gary M. Grandon, Ph.D.