Written By: Natalie Pinto
The Port Light has decided to include a Student Spotlight to highlight students that have made successful achievements inside and outside of school. For this issue, we’ve decided to feature a PCHS senior, Benjamin Reyes! Throughout his years at PCHS, Ben has shown his determination and prowess in both music and academics. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How old were you when you started to play the violin? Have you had a mentor?
I was six years old, so in first grade. I did have a mentor, I actually switched teachers three times. I had my first teacher for two years, then my next teacher from third grade until two years ago, and I just got a new teacher last year.
What inspired you to start the violin?
My parents and my family. My cousin, who lives in Canada, plays the violin too. He’s a few years older than me, and he’s really good. Better than me. He also plays the piano. I’d say he’s the one that inspired me.
What is NYSSMA?
NYSSMA stands for New York State School Music Association, it’s an assessment. Every year in April, there’s a two day festival where students perform a solo in front of a judge on their instrument. They can choose levels 1 through 6, so I did level 6 All-State. I played Saint-Saëns Violin Concerto No. 3, 3rd movement. My score qualified me to get accepted into the All-State Symphony Orchestra, which consists of high school musicians around the state. This festival takes place from December 1-4 this year, so I will go to Rochester for that weekend to rehearse and perform.
How did you feel when you heard of your seat in the NYSSMA All-State Symphony Orchestra? And what excites you the most about it?
I was super excited. The first person that went through my mind was my mom. My mom has been the biggest influence on my music career; she’s really involved with it. She drives me to my lessons, she helps me choose repertoire and schedules rehearsals with pianists. When I heard I got into all-state, my mom was the first person I told.
Do you plan on continuing music in the future?
Yes, I never want to put my instrument down. But, I do have other career interests. I’d be interested in minoring in music in college or doing it as a hobby.
What are some hobbies that you have?
I program code in python. I create small projects, and I’m self taught. I also like weightlifting, and speedcubing. My fastest 3×3 rubik’s cube solve is 11.4 seconds.
What is a challenge you’ve gone through? How did you overcome it?
I was born with microtia atresia. I was born with only the lobe in my right ear. I can’t hear from this ear, but had reconstructive surgeries done when I was 6 to make the ear look closer to normal. I still can only hear from my left ear. Very early on, I always had to talk to teachers beforehand to get preferential seating, and it was hard to make friends and be social. It was a struggle for me, but music and joining baseball, a team sport that encourages communication between players, helped me get out of my shell.
What’s one of your goals?
One of my main goals that I haven’t achieved yet is being surrounded by people that have similar interests as me. People who uplift me whether it’s in my career or just personally. I did find my community within music: my orchestra mates. I spend a lot of time with them.
What colleges are you considering? Do you have a major in mind?
My top choices are MIT, RPI, Duke, University of Maryland — My dad went there and my sister goes there too — University of Michigan, Stanford, and some others. I’m interested in
electrical engineering. Specifically, the intersection between electrical engineering, computer science, and physics. My favorite class was physics, and I’d really like to research and learn about theoretical physics. Within engineering, I think I’d be a good problem solver and it’s probably easier to get a job.
What do you want to do when you get older?
Probably an engineer working on quantum computers. I wrote about those in my college essay, they use new laws of physics to build computers. Quantum mechanics uses qubits instead of bits for computers, so instead of binary zeros and ones, you could have both zero and one at the same time. That opens up a lot of new possibilities and it would be something really interesting to work on.
What advice would you give to aspiring students?
If you’re feeling unmotivated, think about your end goal and what you want to achieve. Try to find people that will help you achieve your goal. Find people who motivate you and remind you of your goals. If you’re interested in something, just do it. Don’t do something just because people tell you too. Don’t take all these AP classes if you’re not interested in it. Don’t join these clubs if you’re not interested in it. Just do the stuff that you want, and you’ll save a lot of time.
Enjoy your life right now, no matter how stressed you are. This is something I have struggled with over the years. Enjoy going to school every day, the company of your friends, your hobbies, and new experiences. Don’t wait for a reason to be happy, just be happy and think of the things that you are grateful for. This mindset helped me get through some pretty stressful times, like right now.
Take responsibility for your life. Don’t sit and wait for things to happen, get out there and make things happen if you want to.
Ben’s insight in his musical and academic career was enlightening. His advice for our students is crucial to keep in mind throughout high school, and I encourage students to be ambitious like Ben! Work hard to accomplish your goals, and do what you’re passionate about. These highschool years may seem dreadful and long, but what you do here is important in working towards your life after high school. Stay tuned for our next Student Spotlight!