Reports of valedictorian status for Eric Reubens began like a lot of high school news: as a rumor. Weeks before he received official congratulations from the school administration, he began hearing from his classmates.

“Everyone was saying Eric Reubens is valedictorian and everyone just kept coming up to me and congratulating me,” he recalled. “I was like, no, don’t congratulate me. Don’t get my hopes up.”

A few weeks later principal Sara Dingledy called Eric into her office and confirmed his number one class ranking.

“It didn’t set in immediately, because I was like, oh, cool. But then when I got home, I realized, man, this is a big deal. It’s a big accomplishment. I was super happy because then I could tell my family back in India that I’m number one because they really care about that kind of stuff.”

For Eric, the path to becoming valedictorian paradoxically began once he started focusing less on his grades. He said he entered high school hyper-focused on trying to ace every class, but soon realized that this mindset prevented him from appreciating his courses and fully understanding the material.

Tennis team is undefeated so far; Eric anchors second singles. — Maria Thibodeau

After spending AP biology in his sophomore year calculating the precise mark he needed to get on each assignment to achieve an A, studying for the AP exam at the end of year alerted him to the compelling material he had ignored along the way.

“I was too busy focusing on the grade rather than what are the most interesting things in biology,” he said.

Eric entered his upperclassman years with a new mindset.

“When I went into my junior year, I focused a lot more on the content I wanted to learn. I wanted to truly understand these things in AP chemistry,” he said.

“It was a really hard class, and I struggled with its concepts because it just doesn’t come easy to me,” he added. “But working through it and having a good relationship with the teacher who was willing to work with me made the class my favorite class of that year.”

As a member of the high school’s varsity tennis team, Eric credits his athletic experiences with helping build the grit required to persevere through academic challenges. He said as a singles player and being out on the court alone, the pressure can be even more intense.

“Tennis is about building mental resilience,” he said. “You have to build the resilience to move forward when everything is on your own shoulders.”

Eric will attend Tufts University in the fall, with plans to attend medical school after finishing his undergraduate degree. While science courses played a pivotal role in cultivating this dream, he said humanities classes also taught him important lessons. He said learning how to interpret and analyze multiple perspectives in English class helped him become a more dynamic and interdisciplinary thinker.

“I think that’s very important if you’re becoming a physician, because not only are you dealing with the fundamentals of physics and chemistry, but you’re dealing with humans, you’re dealing with people,” he said. “I’m really glad I got that [lesson] out of English. Those are classes that really focused on growth in my character and maturity, especially AP literature.”

Playing violin gave him an emotional and creative outlet, he said. Whenever he felt particularly tired or exhausted by school, his favorite anxiety reliever was picking up his violin.

“Schubert is my favorite composer, and Vivaldi is my favorite violinist,” he said. “So when I would get really done with studying, I’d just start playing pieces by those people and it just took all the stress off of me.”

Looking ahead to college, Eric said he is eager to see what life is like on the mainland but will miss the Vineyard.

“Who I am is built around the Island,” he said. He loves the natural landscape of the Vineyard and his favorite summer activities are going to the beach, hiking and biking with friends.

“I also love getting fried chicken from places,” he added, giving especially high marks to the fried chicken at Rocco’s Pizzeria in Vineyard Haven. “It’s the particular way they fry it. The taste — it’s so good. It’s exquisite.”

He hopes a lifelong connection with Tufts will serve as a good omen for the four years ahead.

“I was born pretty early, premature [on the Vineyard],” he said. “And they flew me to Tufts and the doctors, the team at the Tufts Medical Center saved my life. So I have a universal connection to it.”

“I’m looking forward to it,” he added. “I think everything will be perfect.”