I was sixteen when I stood at a podium before my graduating class. With a tassel dangling in my peripheral vision, I delivered a speech on dreams and the audacity to pursue them. Audacious because beneath my graduation gown was a belly bulging, ripe with a life on the verge of beginning. Ironic because some might say that by choosing to grow that life when I was but a baby myself, I was bringing my own life to a screeching halt. I suppose that I was, in some ways. But mostly, I was beginning a whole new chapter.
I’ve always been a planner. So when I watched those two pink lines creep across the window of that pregnancy test, my mind began to race. Terminating the pregnancy was not an option I was willing to consider, and so I contemplated, instead, the possibilities. In the end, I decided to enroll in a continuation high school so as to speed my studies in order to graduate before my baby arrived. My first day at the new school was eye opening, to say the least. Whereas before I’d been surrounded by burly athletes and bookworms, the new school overflowed with what we called “stoners” and underachievers and—yes—pregnant teens. Quite suddenly, I found myself lumped in with a group labeled “high risk youth” and I can’t say I was happy to be included.
Whether I realized it or not, I was at a crossroads. I could choose to coast along and hope to get by, or I could step up my game and ensure a high school diploma was in my future. Of course, if you were paying attention to that first paragraph up there, you already know the ending. But here’s the epilogue, if you will: three short months after I delivered that speech, I delivered a healthy baby girl. In the time that has passed since, I’ve learned volumes about labor and sacrifice, pain and joy. My perspective has most assuredly changed during these eighteen years, but one thing remains the same: I still believe that dreams can come true—cliché or not.
Within the week, I will sit in an audience and watch as that baby girl walks across a stage in a cap and gown of her own. Two weeks later, I’m taking her on a mother/daughter trip to Europe in hopes that the experience will enrich and inspire her. And then in the fall, she’ll start her college courses in pursuit of a marketing degree. This, in spite of the statistics that predicted a dire future for the both of us.
Becoming a parent at sixteen was neither glamorous nor easy, by any stretch of the imagination. I would be the first to caution against it. In fact, I spent a year of my life speaking at high schools on precisely that topic. But there is a truth of equal importance for those already entrenched in a less than ideal situation. That is, statistics don’t define anybody. Your future is what you make of it. You just have to be audacious in your pursuit. Take it from someone who knows.