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From Brazil to BU academy, she's vaulted a world of hurdles

High school senior Ariana Nunes, 17, could have been like one of the children she met in Brazil this summer. Nunes volunteered at a community center for three weeks, painting a mural and playing games, through California-based Global Leadership Adventures. She grew attached to the children, who jumped into the frame every time she took out her camera. But despite their potential, "they don't really have any motivation," she says. "They just feel like they're trapped."

In her freshman year, Nunes was in trouble herself, failing one course and nearly failing the rest. "I was under the influence of the people around me," she says. "I wanted to fit in."

But all that's changed. Last week, she raced from Boston University's intensive A+ Academy to her Mass. General Hospital internship to her job at a local restaurant. At East Boston High this fall she will take four AP courses, mentor a freshman, edit the yearbook, and try to start a global issues club. GLA executive director Andrew Motiwalla calls Nunes "absolutely astounding" and says her trip was fully funded. "She's a person who's gone through a lot in her family and persevered."

The price Nunes has paid -- besides sleep -- might be her personal life. "Not much of my time is spent with anyone else," she says. She felt a little alienated from wealthier volunteers this summer. She has one close friend but otherwise relies on a mentor to vent.

On the positive side, "I'm not influenced by the people around me anymore," she says. "I'm not afraid of what people think of me." She wants to study genetic engineering, forensic science, and art at an Ivy League school, preferably Harvard. "I'm pretty directed," she says. "I don't think I can ever be perfect, but there's always room for improvement."

DANIELLE DREILINGER

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