Her mother, a university student, is her inspiration. Her father, an army officer she never knew, died when her mother was just three months pregnant with her.
But 18-year-old Emirati Alia Majid Ebrahim Al Mutawa has surmounted adversity and scored 99.9 per cent in her Grade 12 exams, the highest in the UAE. She is one of two students who scored the highest.
A homemaker, her 36-year-old mother Sajida Ali Al Jabri, raised Alia and her elder sister on their father's pension.
The harsh realities of life, however, did not stop Alia from emerging the UAE topper in the Science stream. It instead inspired her to give her best, she says.
As the toppers of the public schools grade 12 exams were announced Sunday by the Ministry of Education, their home in Nad Al Hammar was filled with joy.
"My mother is my greatest inspiration. She got married at the age of 16 and after losing my father to illness, she went through schooling from Grade 1 to 12 and is now in university," Alia said. Alia, who attends the Sakina Bint Al Hussain Secondary School in Dubai, scored 799 marks out of 800.
The Ministry of Education announced top scorers Sunday, but the full results will only be announced Monday, officials said.
The other Science stream topper who also scored 99.9 per cent is Mohammad Naseeh Al Siraj of the Mohammad Bin Hamad Al Sharqi Boys School in Fujairah. He hails from Syria.
Egyptian Monallah Ahmad Tawfiq of the Rashid Al Saleh Private School in Dubai emerged the UAE topper in the Arts stream with 99.8 per cent. There are 724 public schools across the country, and about 32,000 students appeared for the grade 12 exams in June.
Results include some private schools as well, which follow the Ministry of Education curriculum.
Overwhelmed with joy and excitement, Al Jabri said her daughter has always topped her class in school and that she expected the marks. She is yet to find out how she lost one mark, since the detailed marks have not been released, the mother said.
Al Jabri is studying at the Sharjah University for a bachelor's degree in Islamic Studies. She is from Hyderabad in India and came to the UAE in the 1990s after her marriage.
"Three years after my father's death my mother decided to join school," Alia said, adding that she owes her success to her mother. He sister Fatima is studying Environmental Health at Zayed University.
"I hope to take up Energy Engineering in America or Australia," she said, adding that she is waiting for her scholarship to be approved.
"I can't express my feelings enough," she said.
Meanwhile, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, received a copy of the names of the top 10 students from Humaid Mohammad Obaid Al Qutami, Minister of Education.
Shaikh Mohammad congratulated the students, and wished them success in achieving their aspirations and ambitions, and in achieving higher levels of education to serve their nation and society.