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When Selimzhan Chalyshkan ’23 thinks about his childhood friend Aknazar “Adam” Kazhymurat ’23, he recalls the memories they made together attending Science Olympiad competitions years before arriving at Harvard.
“He was passionate about everything he was talking about back then,” Chalyshkan said. “Every time someone would go to the Olympiad, we’d cheer for each other.”
Chalyshkan remembered Kazhymurat as a constant in his life. They attended the same middle and high schools in their home country of Kazakhstan before arriving together at Harvard for their first semester of college — on the same flight. Chalyshkan also said he fondly looks back on their pre-college experiences, which were marked by encouragement rather than competition.
“That was a very important time period in my life,” Chalyshkan said. “Knowing that I have Aknazar, who believed in me and my abilities and supported me.”
Kazhymurat died earlier this month while on leave from Harvard in Kazakhstan. Friends and mentors of Kazhymurat remembered him as a brilliant and kindhearted individual with a passion for his studies.
Before arriving at Harvard, Kazhymurat graduated from the Nazarbayev Intellectual School of Physics and Mathematics in Almaty, the largest city in Kazakhstan and Kazhymurat’s hometown. The president of Kazakhstan congratulated Kazhymurat on his acceptance to Harvard, according to a 2018 article on the school’s website. Kazhymurat said at the time that he planned to practice science in Kazakhstan after college.
Chalyshkan described Kazhymurat as “very, very kind” and “really hardworking.”
“Everyone thought that he was genius and stuff, but he would always say that he’s not — that it’s a result of hard work,” Chalyshkan said.
But even when Kazhymurat faced pressing deadlines at Harvard, Chalyshkan said he would always take time to talk to his friends.
“I would go to his dorm room and we’d start talking, even though both of us have something due tonight or the next day,” Chalyshkan said. “We’d continue talking until like midnight.”
“He knew so much stuff,” he added. “He could talk about just anything, and that was always so cool.”
Rachel Murray-Crawford, Kazhymurat’s freshman-year proctor, wrote in an email that Kazhymurat was an exceptionally kind and generous person.
“Aknazar was so kind to every single person in our entryway,” she wrote. “He stopped by nearly every study break to say hi. Even if he couldn’t stay too long, he always made an effort to show-up with a wave and smile.”
“I think it’s worth highlighting that Aknazar was the type of person to loan their shirt for somebody else, even if he didn’t have another for himself,” she added.
Murray-Crawford also wrote that she remembers Kazhymurat’s love for his family.
“He spoke so highly of his father and brother. When everybody was asked to leave campus due to COVID 19, I had a check-in with Aknazar,” she wrote. “While he was sad to leave Harvard, he told me he was most excited to go hug his brother and that embracing him was a moment he had longed for throughout the semester.”
Others who knew Kazhymurat said they remember his intellectual prowess and deep love of learning.
Claudia Quevedo-Webb, who taught Kazhymurat’s Spanish 15: “Intensive Beginning Spanish: Special Course” section during his freshman year, described him as “very curious.”
“He was one of those students who is actually really interested in what he’s studying and he wants to ask a lot of questions and always keeps you on your feet,” she said. “Whether it was a question of teaching some grammar or culture, he was always really interested in knowing the ins and outs of it.”
David R. “Dave” De Remer ’03, who conducted Kazhymurat’s admissions interview for Harvard, said Kazhymurat was “brilliant, warm, and witty.”
“What stands out to me about Aknazar is the kind of pure joy and love he had for mathematics and academic study,” he said. “He also really, really loved to share this with his classmates as well, so you see this in how he organized math circles at his own high school and also created this infrastructure to help further students study beyond their own school curriculums.”
De Remer said Kazhymurat had a “sincere desire to give back” and expand access to higher education in Kazakhstan.
“We’ve lost this opportunity to see how he would have grown,” he said. “He’s already surely left a legacy in terms of showing other students in this area what's possible.”
Kazhymurat spent the summer before his senior year of high school conducting research at MIT.
MIT professor Paul Seidel, his faculty supervisor, wrote in an emailed statement that he was impressed by Kazhymurat’s diverse knowledge of mathematics.
“When I first met Aknazar, I was immediately struck by how up-to-date he was on [current] developments in geometry and mathematical physics,” he wrote. “Mathematics has a tradition of talent developing very early, but Aknazar stood out by the fact that his interests spanned several subjects.”
Kazhymurat’s project report “reads entirely like a product of a fully trained mathematician, including in the broad range of literature that is used,” Seidel added.
Seidel also wrote that Kazhymurat skillfully navigated his position as both a high school student and scientist.
“Aknazar looked to be very comfortable with his role of being still a high school student and yet already a member of the scientific community,” he wrote. “I was looking forward to meeting him at conferences for decades to come, and seeing which of many directions of research he would ultimately choose to pursue.”
“It is deeply sad that this must now remain in the realm of the imagination,” Seidel added.
Chalyshkan said he will miss his friend’s presence in his life.
“Every time, I would think that, ‘Oh, well, there’s some other [time together] awaiting us in the future. Something will just happen and then we will end up doing that thing together again,’” he said. “Knowing that he’s not around, it’s so weird and I still haven’t processed that.”
—Staff writer Alex M. Koller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @alexmkoller.
—Staff writer Taylor C. Peterman can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @taylorcpeterman.
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