DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Eighteen-year-old Aliyah Reeves is at ease on the North Dallas High School stage. But, her real life roles have at times been troubled.

“I’ve played the student that everyone looked up to, I’ve played the student that everyone looked down to,” says Reeves.

In spite of excelling in school, a dysfunctional home life a few years ago led the teen down a destructive path. Aliyah dropped out of school– and doesn’t even want to think about how that story line could have ended.

“Strung out, probably on drugs, from my bad influences,” muses Aliyah. “Or probably dead, trying to fit in: unlimited possibilities. None of them good.”

But, seeds of a plot twist were planted when Aliyah was just a babe.

“When I first laid eyes on her,” and seconds into our interview Linda Nunley begins to wipe away tears. “I’m sorry. I thought she was the most beautiful girl that I’d ever seen.”

Aliyah Reeves and Linda Nunley

A chance encounter with Aliyah’s birth mother led Nunley to offer to babysit, but over the years their relationship grew to so much more.

“Aliyah has been through a lot,” says Nunley. “But, failure is just not an option.”

Especially with someone like Nunley in your corner. She refused to give up on Aliyah– even when she was defiant, acting out and courting trouble. She says she saw her potential. And when given the chance to parent, she took it. The former babysitter and “G-Mommy,” earlier this year, became the teenager’s adoptive mom.

“It makes me feel so wonderful; because I was able to do what her mother couldn’t,” says Nunley. “And that doesn’t make her mom a bad person. I just thank God that he put me in a position to take over when she couldn’t.”

Aliyah will will graduate later this month near the top of her class. That accomplishment is part redemption and a reminder of how much a single life can matter in shaping the path of another– especially when when that new life is one called ‘Mom’.

“She didn’t have to,” says Aliyah. “She didn’t have to do anything. She could be living her life; but, she chose to take care of me and my little brother.”

Aliyah likened having a mother like Nunley in her corner with having won the lottery.

“She’s wonderful, she’s beautiful, she’s smart…she’s just the best thing ever in life that I could have.”

There were others, too, she says. She recalls a former teacher who continued to look for her and encouraged her to return to school– even contacting authorities who brought Nunley back into her life.

Now, there’s one more role that Aliyah intends to play to perfection: college student. She’s won a four year scholarship to SMU.

“Going to my dream school,” says Aliyah with a huge smile. “Just being like a butterfly, flying, going where I want to be.”

“I am very proud, very proud,” says Nunley, her eyes again filling with tears. “Words cannot express how proud I am.”

A world of career choices await Aliyah, but she already says she’d like to be a foster mother one day… having learned firsthand that it’s not blood; but, love that makes the difference.

“She’s like the best thing that has happened in my life,” says Aliyah of her mom.