In summing up XABIER's recommendation, one of his teachers at Manhattan Village Academy was definite. "Overall, Xabier is a wonder," the paragraph began. The paragraph ended: "He is a rock star."

Manhattan Village Academy turned out to be an excellent school for Xabier, small but demanding. His AP-laden transcript places him 6th in a class of 91. "I didn't get to cheer for a football team," says Xabier, "we had a table tennis team." He is a winning debater, and co-founder of the school's newspaper, a challenge he undertook "to unify people."

Xabier's work to overcome difficulties began early. His single mother is raising him and a brother and sister with the help of food stamps. A speech impediment when he was 7 years old, left him, mostly pointing. Speech therapy changed things: "I worked week after week with the therapist," he remembers, "slowly adding new sounds. After a year, I was no longer 'mute.'"

Next, though, came difficulty communicating in Spanish, a challenge that has continued. He wrote in his application: "I know that throughout life, I will face barriers, whether they be as small as a syllable or as big as the ability to connect to people in my community." But, he says, "I've also learned that there is no obstacle that I cannot transcend.'' In the fall, Xabier will begin classes at Columbia University.