Photograph: Peter Vignoles before the Baccalaureate Service Sunday.
Peter Vignoles is a tourist who stayed.
He was a 20-year-old just visiting New York City from London in the summer of 1988 when he fell in love--with the city, and then with the woman who would become his wife.
Today, Vignoles will graduate from Columbia's School of General Studies as valedictorian, at the top of his class, and he gives at least part of the credit to the city:
"I don't know if it's New York or America," he said in a recent interview, "but there is something here that really encourages success, that pulls out of people what is necessary to be successful."
>From his native London, where he had finished high school and taken a variety of "odd jobs, nothing worth mentioning," Vignoles seven years ago set out to visit New York and his aunt and uncle in Queens.
"I was a tourist," he said. "The first thing that really intrigued me was that New York was a city that never stopped. You could do anything you wanted, anytime. It was where anything was possible, any aspiration, any dream.
"As a young person, I was excited by the night life and such. I found the city incredibly alive; the sheer volume of activity was astonishing."
Mutual friends soon introduced him to Claudia Martin, a City College nursing student, and they married that November. He took a job as a clothing salesman, then one in the operations department of a Japanese bank.
Vignoles, 26, is now a mathematician. He attended Columbia's School of General Studies part-time for four years, full-time for the last year and a half, majoring in math with a minor in economics.
"He was one of my best students," said Columbia mathematics professor Patrick X. Gallagher. "In a field where an A+ is very hard to get, his transcript is littered with them. He has a very elegant and succinct way of expressing himself mathematically."
Asked if he planned to go into the field, Vignoles said modestly, in thoughtful British tones, "I certainly would like to get into the great mathematical problems. And of course it would be fine if some time a hundred years from now someone were talking about 'Vignoles' Theorem.'"
But he is first a banker. With his new Columbia B.A. and valedictory honors, he will soon begin work with another Japanese bank as a currency trader, where the worrisome values of dollars and yen are not theoretical.
The work of buying and selling currency options excites him: "Volatility of exchange rates for a trader can only be considered good," he said.
Vignoles's wife is now a registered nurse, working in Manhattan. The couple is considering moving from their Brooklyn apartment, but not far.
"We may move to the suburbs," said Vignoles, "but not from the New York area."