Ruben Haggai, who comes from tiny Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean, excelled in the classroom and on the tennis court.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Commencement 2014 profile: Ruben Haggai
May 12, 2014Tweet
Ruben Haggai recalled a time when his Binghamton University tennis coach said that the team would take a van to travel to North Carolina.
Haggai immediately thought of his home on Réunion Island, a French island in the Indian Ocean that has an area of only 970 square miles.
“To go from north to south doesn’t even take two hours,” he said. “My coach said we would be in the van for 10-plus hours. I thought: ‘Wow! I could’ve done the run of my island five times.’ It’s not very big.”
Though Réunion Island is not big, it sure is far away. To get to the island just east of Madagascar and Africa, a traveler would first have to arrive in Paris and then take a 12-hour, non-stop flight to Roland Garros Airport near the capital of Saint-Denis.
For Haggai, who will graduate this month from the School of Management, the journey from Réunion Island to Binghamton has turned a freshman who consulted the dictionary for English tips into a senior who has served as a role model on the tennis court and in the classroom.
The 21-year-old was born in France, but moved to Réunion Island at age 5 after his father began a job there. Haggai grew up in Saint-Denis, the biggest city on the island. Located on the northern coast, the city offered Haggai the chance to spend days on the beach, while learning to play tennis with older brother Alexandre at a nearby club.
“It was a great atmosphere,” Haggai said in his French-English accent. “Less than a million people total. People were open-minded and it was a great place to grow up.”
The island’s location, combined with Haggai’s burgeoning tennis talent, gave him a chance to visit places such as India, Australia, South Africa and Madagascar.
As his French tennis ranking improved, Haggai began to hear from U.S. schools, including one that his brother was already attending: Binghamton University.
“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to study in the United States,” Haggai said. “A few other schools contacted me (to play tennis), but Binghamton was always my first choice.”
Haggai started at Binghamton as an economics major before transferring into the School of Management after a year to focus on finance and management.
“The School of Management is a great program,” he said. “The faculty is broad and international. I could see myself in them.”
As Haggai excelled in the classroom and wore a winter coat for the first time in his life, he found himself on a tennis team that was making a national name for itself. In the four years Haggai spent on the team, the Bearcats won four America East championships and went to the NCAA tournament three times (The team could not go last month because the conference did not have enough eligible teams).
One of Haggai’s most memorable moments was when the Bearcats faced UCLA in the opening round of the 2011 NCAA tournament.
“It was a beautiful campus and we played in front of 1,000 people,” he said about the Bearcats’ loss. “Then you come back and you’re studying on the plane because it’s finals week. There’s a lot going on, but it’s worth it.”
Studying was a constant for a team that placed multiple players on the America East All-Academic Team.
“Even if we’re on a trip to North Carolina, you’ll see us on our laptops writing papers,” Haggai said. “It’s hard to combine everything, but it’s a great feeling when you win the conference and have a great team GPA. It was great to do that every year.”
Traveling with the team was special for Haggai, as well, he said.
“I was not only traveling with my best friends, but I also had the opportunity to go to a different school and a different state each weekend,” he said. “It was great to go to California or Nebraska because it made me understand the culture and country even more.”
Haggai’s greatest combination of academic and athletic success came in 2013, when he was named Most Outstanding Player at the America East Championship and was named America East Scholar Athlete of the Year in tennis.
Men’s tennis coach Adam Cohen called Haggai “the definition of what a student-athlete ought to be.”
“(Ruben) has successfully navigated through SOM and will graduate with a cumulative GPA of 3.7,” Cohen said. “On the tennis court, Ruben has helped us win four conference championships since his arrival in January of 2011. This past season, Ruben’s back limited his playing time but that didn’t stop him from pushing the guys in practice and in their matches. Each time we asked Ruben to step onto the court representing Binghamton University he did with it pride, class and respect of his opponent. We are going to miss having Ruben’s influence next season.”
Haggai is considering pursuing a master’s degree in management in either France or at Binghamton University. A degree from a French school could be beneficial if he seeks an international job, he said, but Binghamton has its advantages, too.
“The program is so attractive here,” he said. “To be able to stay in SOM to get my degree would be great.”
Haggai, who hopes to someday work on the marketing, innovation and design of products, said everything he has accomplished was made possible by Binghamton University.
“I can’t believe I’m about to graduate already,” he said. “It just flew by. Students welcomed me. The Athletics Department helped me so much and my coach, friends and SOM helped, too. Everything has happened too fast. I still remember moving into the dorms and going to my first lecture. It was too fast.”