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More valedictorians pick Northeastern for college

Talia Whyte

Among valedictorians in the Boston Public Schools’ Class of 2008, Northeastern University is the most popular college choice.

Seven of the 38 valedictorians from city public high schools will attend Northeastern in the fall, a higher number than enrolled in any other college or university.

Chioma Nwaoha, 18, is one of them. The valedictorian of English High School’s 2008 graduating class got a head start on higher learning by enrolling in summer preparatory courses at Northeastern, where she will major in biology when the fall semester starts.

“Biology is something that has always interested me,” Nwaoha said. “I have a very inquisitive nature.”

And a very ambitious one, too. After finishing undergraduate study, Nwaoha said she hopes to go on to medical school and then establish a research center to study infectious diseases in her home country of Nigeria. She said that the health care system in the West African nation is burdened due to the high rates of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, and hopes she can one day make a difference.

Born in the southwestern Nigerian city of Lagos, Nwaoha moved to Boston with her family in 2005. Nwaoha’s sister, Faith, also reached the head of the class this year, when she was named valedictorian of Jeremiah Burke High School in Dorchester. The sisters made Boston Public Schools history this year by becoming the first siblings named valedictorians at the same time.

Nwaoha said she chose Northeastern because of its racial diversity and its cooperative program, where students can gain work experience while taking courses.

Arlina Aguasvivas, this year’s valedictorian at Brook Farm Business and Service Academy in Jamaica Plain, said the school’s proximity to her family’s home in Jamaica Plain was also a drawing point.

Aguasvivas said she is not yet sure what she will major in, but she has a strong interest in accounting and business management. She said that her career at Brook Farms prepared her very well for college. While most high school juniors are thinking about what they will wear to the prom, Aguasvivas spent much of her time hitting the books.

“I usually spent a lot of my time studying for all of my classes,” she said. “I also spent my time getting ready for the SATs and visiting colleges.”

Near the end of her junior year, Aguasvivas’ school took a class trip to London to visit other high schools, as well as meet with British-based business leaders who work for General Electric and the Bank of New York Mellon.

As for advice for other high school students who aspire to gain their school’s highest honors, both Chioma Nwaoha and Aguasvivas said that while it is important to study hard, the work should be balanced out with social activities. In addition to her schoolwork, Nwaoha plays tennis and volunteers with the Red Cross in her spare time.

“If you want to do anything in life, you have to have the goals and the determination to make it happen,” Nwaoha said.