There was no fighting to the top this year. No tooth and nail-clawing to inch past the next-highest class rank, no daily status updates with the guidance department computer system, no strategic scheduling of classes to yield a higher-weighted grade point average, regardless of interest in the subjects.

No, this year's top three ranked students at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School - all girls - have been less concerned with getting to the top than with getting an education.

Nevertheless, one student emerged at the head of the class: Samantha Bressler Rabin of Katama is valedictorian this year.

She prefers small towns and small schools but is most passionate about global issues. She is almost painfully shy but relentless curiosity motivates her to ask questions. She is small in frame and stature but has big opinions and ideas. And despite that she has yet to locate a competitive bone in her body, she has sky-scraping expectations for herself that keep her working hard.

At the end of this summer, Samantha will leave her family, her new puppy and her 1983 Toyota Cressida (no freshmen cars allowed) to travel to upstate New York to attend Hamilton College: population 1,775 (small enough not to feel like high school, big enough not to know everyone after the first week).

"I'm looking at either English, or possibly environmental studies," said Samantha, who was co-editor of the school newspaper this year.

The people she most admires in the world are writers and scientists. She comes from a science-minded family - her father is chief technology officer at a venture capital fund and her mother is a registered nurse.

"The state of the environment really gets me down," she said. "It's hard that there are still people who are not accepting [that there is a problem]." Her research project for government class this year studied how environmental "facts" can change based on who has political power.

"Living on the Island has made me a lot more aware of [environmental issues]," she said. "A lot of my teachers are passionate about these things, which kind of sparks me." Many teenagers at the regional high school are in tune with the environment, she said. Showing a movie about conservation in class is a bit like "preaching to the choir," she said.

But she is critical of herself for not doing more to help the environment. She tried riding her bike to school, but it didn't stick.

"I had a hard time even doing that, so maybe I'm not better than anyone else at dealing with the problem at hand," she said.

Samantha sees room for self-improvement everywhere. For someone whose expectations for herself are so high, she is as open about her weaknesses as her strengths.

She is quick to note how her anti-competitive nature has shaped her interests and activities.

"I've tried many team sports," she said. "I like the practices, but I don't like the stress of the competition and games."

Instead, she has danced for most of her life, and still takes modern, jazz and ballet lessons five days a week.

"I'd be fine not doing shows," she said. "That's probably why I've stuck with it, because I didn't let it get enemy-competition."

She feels the same way about piano, which she has studied for years. She even did an independent study through the high school so she could go to her piano teacher's house during the school day.

"I just like learning it for myself," she said. She even skipped the last recital.

"I kind of regret that a little bit," she said. "I should probably just face my fear."

Bravery - another area for improvement.

She was proud of herself this year for carrying out her job as co-editor of the weekly school newspaper.

"I'm pretty shy and afraid to talk to people, so being forced to do that, I think was good for me," she said. "Normally I'd be terrified to contact someone I didn't know or hadn't been introduced to," she added.

As editor, Samantha was responsible for organizing people, keeping writers on deadline and writing many of her own articles.

"Doing the newspaper this year was a lot bigger commitment than it has been in past years," she said. "But I'm glad I did it."

She's a bit nervous about her next challenge: starting college, where she will have a roommate for the first time.

"It is sad to leave a community like this, where you say hi to everyone on Main street," she said. "I think we're really lucky to have the high school we have," she added, noting the drama and arts programs in particular - "things you don't even realize are great things to have."

But she's looking forward to some parts of moving away - such as not having to take a boat to get everywhere and being more free to travel. She's hoping to study in Spain.

There are some things she won't miss about high school: being told when to eat lunch, having to interrupt the teacher for a bathroom pass and not being able to make her own schedule.

"They have to make rules like that, but I won't miss them," she said. "I wouldn't say I necessarily like school. I really like learning.

"There are a lot of things I don't really agree with in the school system," she continued. "I have a problem with how much homework they give. It makes it hard to enjoy what you're learning."

She is relieved that the standardized testing is over for the time being.

"I definitely think there's got to be a better alternative," she said. "I've always had a problem with time. That's been one of the most frustrating experiences... I'm not able to show what I really know. I feel like it's the same with memorizing some of those [math] formulas you could easily just look up online."

She stops for a moment and gives an apologetic smile.

"It wouldn't seem like I've ever had time problem," she said. "But I would have been so much more proud of myself if I'd had a few extra minutes."

But all in all, she's grateful for her high school experience. She doesn't take it for granted that she felt comfortable and accepted. She thanks her friends for that as well - some of whom she has been close with since elementary school. And as the interview comes to a close in her living room, on a drizzly afternoon after graduation rehearsal, Samantha has one final thought:

"My family has totally always been supportive, and I think that plays a huge role in being motivated - and feeling good about what I did."