Sodasia Thompson has learned to work around the obstacles that could have kept her from her goals.
When she couldn't attend a music program at her school, Bay Shore High, the summer before her sophomore year because she had to work, she met with the instructor every day an hour before her job started to soak up all she could.
Thompson, 18, was raised by her aunt Claudia Bizzle of Bay Shore after her mother could no longer care for her.
"She is the greatest person on earth," Thompson said. "She literally saved my life. If I ask her for something, she will try her absolute hardest to get it for me."
Thompson, propelled by her own ambition and the help of those who want her to succeed, has a 93.6 grade-point average and is ranked 41 in a class of 421. She is enrolled in college-level International Baccalaureate courses and is first chair trumpet in both wind ensemble and symphonic orchestra.
Thompson also sings, and her vocals were key in helping her school win $5,000 in a VH1-sponsored competition meant to bolster music education. She made it through two early rounds of the X-Factor talent show when it came to Long Island last spring.
Thompson will attend Hofstra University in the fall -- she landed a full scholarship -- and is determined to become a music therapist, helping others with a talent she has honed for more than a decade.
Her strongest ally, she said, is her aunt, who took her in along with a number of her six siblings at various points in their lives.
When Thompson was caught off guard by Hofstra's request for a $300 housing deposit, she turned to Bizzle for help.
"She was running around like crazy to get me that $300," she said.
Thompson calls Bizzle "mom" and refers to her birth mother, who died four years ago, as "aunt."
"She was a good person," Thompson said. "I always had a soft spot for her. We saw her from time to time; she used to do my hair a lot."
Thompson is close with her siblings, although one has since been adopted by another family.
"We could not survive without each other," she said. "We are so happy with the way we are living."
Thompson said her past doesn't define her or her future.
"I am going to be creative and bouncy; I'm going to be myself," she said. "I can't help who I am."
She said she is looking forward to her coursework at Hofstra and deciding when to focus on music and when to marry it with psychology.
Matt Pasca, her IB English teacher, said Thompson is one of the most effusive and authentic people he's known.
"She will bear-hug people off the ground," he said. "She's done that to me many times -- and I'm 250 pounds. She is just her, which is refreshing and not easy in high school."
And she elicits a desire in others to help her, he said, "not by manipulation or using people -- but by rallying people. She's solid; she's the real deal."
She doesn't much like to receive gifts but she adores giving them. "I love making people happy -- to make sure someone else's day is great."
WHAT MAKES YOU EXTRAORDINARY
"I'm happy all the time."