It takes all of about sixty seconds when speaking to Anton Martynenko to realize the young man is something special.
That’s all it takes to experience his enthusiasm for learning, desire to contribute to society, and love for both the US, where he came as a high school exchange student, and his native Russia. Then, all one needs to do is go to the budding artist’s website to view his brilliance and talent.
In the spring of 2011, Anton, a recipient of the 2008 Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, was a busy fellow as he prepared to graduate from the University of Dallas. Not only was he on pins and needles waiting for word on potential teaching assignments or positions with art galleries that he applied for, he was also burning the midnight oil putting the final touches on an exhibition of his artwork on campus.
“The show incorporates eight of my most recent paintings and is titled Constructive Criticism,” said Anton. “All the pieces depict ongoing construction sites, as metaphors for construction of the human mind. They are very analytical, slightly tragic and funny at once.”
There’s another component of Anton’s personality that is immediately obvious – gratitude – to the Foundation for providing him the scholarship, the many teachers and mentors who’ve helped guide him through his high school and college years, but most importantly, his parents. Anton’s an only child and was encouraged by his parents to come to America at age 15 as an exchange student, and to then return for college.
In describing his time as a Scholar and the doors it opened for him, Anton says the impact is immeasurable. “I could tell you some stories about my intellectual discoveries, my work, travels to Europe, about museum or university volunteering, but it all comes down to the very sense of myself,” Anton said. “My identity is the first thing that comes to mind. Without this gift (the scholarship), I would have never been able to tell you that I am an artist, a world traveler and that I am pursuing a career I could have never dreamt of while living in Russia.”
Anton is also intensely aware of his responsibility to give back. “This gift brings a profound moral obligation of repaying it. Obviously not to Mr. Cooke himself, but to society, to this country, to kids who work hard to do better.”
What’s the future hold for the young Russian? After he secures his undergraduate degree Anton will be taking a year off from classes to hopefully teach art or work in a gallery somewhere in the US. But his future goal may be the legal profession. He’s currently planning on applying to law school, probably on the East Coast. His emphasis will be “art and cultural heritage law,” a relatively new field of endeavor.
Life is good right now for the young man who started his life in Zhigulevsk, Russia and had stops in Oklahoma and Texas, and with his can-do attitude, it will remain that way.