After conquering the world, Alexander must have felt pretty Great. So just imagine how Stanisa Veljkovik ’07 is feeling these days. Like his fabled countryman before him, the Canaday first-year is making history. Veljkovik is the first student from his native Macedonia to try his luck at this prestigious American university.
Born and raised in the capital city of Skopje, Veljkovik stepped off a plane onto American soil a little over a month ago, red-eyed from an 18-hour flight but bright-eyed about starting four years in Cambridge. “It’s great here!” says Veljkovik, throwing up his hands with the sort of colorful body language characteristic of his Mediterranean heritage. “To Macedonians, Harvard and Oxford are the most famous universities in the world,” says Veljkovik. “I am really impressed with the opportunities here, by all the pamphlets handed out for everything—I think Harvard must be the biggest spender of paper in the world!”
Despite Veljkovik’s excitement at America’s bounty of freshly deforested paper products, the aspiring astrophysics concentrator remains surprisingly subdued about his extraordinary path from his Macedonian homeland through the gates of Harvard Yard.
Veljkovik recounts how he was only a toddler when his father abandoned the family, leaving his mother alone to care for her young son. At the age of eight, Veljkovik came to bear an adult burden when his mother suffered a severe stroke. “She was paralyzed, “ says Veljkovik. “I looked after my mother—changing her clothes, taking care of her.” Veljkovik’s mother suffered another stroke as he entered his freshman year of high school; she passed away shortly thereafter.
At that point, Veljkovik recalls, he took residence in a dormitory at his high school and assumed all the responsibilities of living on his own, without any parental support. Throughout high school, he excelled in physics and astronomy, winning scores of first-place awards and recognition within Macedonia’s physics community. But Veljkovic is quick to insist that his past success may not translate to his new life at Harvard. “Even though I was one of the best physics students in Macedonia, I am just a small boy here—nothing more,” he says.
Indeed, Veljkovik’s first weeks at Harvard have been an intense introduction to life in America. Those who know him describe the cherubic Macedonian as outgoing, generous and an indispensable force in the assembly of their suite’s futon.
Roommate Whaed A. Gardezi ’07 agrees. “I’ve gotta give him props,” says Gardezi. “He likes to rely on himself; he’s very independent, which is really cool.” Gardezi readily points out that his roommate also has a bubbly social side, the kind that reportedly keeps him out past 2 a.m. partying with other international students—and perhaps swapping numbers with Harvard females, whom Veljkovik describes with a shy smile and shrug as “pretty” and “more blonde” than back home.
With or without girls, his attention never strays far from academics for long, as Veljkovik claims that his single biggest priority is earning his undergraduate diploma. In fact, he has been especially diligent in selecting courses for the fall semester, one of which is the popular Core, Lit and Arts B-21, “Images of Alexander the Great.” Naturally, the grinning Macedonian first-year cites an interest in the history of his homeland as a reason for enrolling in the class, but his major incentive comes from another well-worn Harvard resource. Says Veljkovik, “According to the CUE Guide, it’s supposed to be easy!”