For most students, the pomp and circumstance of high school graduation is a foregone conclusion of the past four years. For the others, walking across that stage will symbolize triumph over obstacles that challenged their young lives and threatened to take them off course.
As students walked the halls of Brockton High School, the whispers around Rose Quoi weren’t so hushed.
Her friends were supportive of her, but other students were quick to judge. Quoi even overheard some parents remarking that pregnant girls should not be allowed in school with the rest of the student population.
“Like [if] being pregnant is a virus that’s going to spread,” said Quoi, 19, recalling her junior year of high school.
In the late summer of 2012, when she found out she was pregnant, Quoi said, she went into a panic and later depression. She had just started the school year and could not concentrate on her studies.
Emotionally, Quoi couldn’t cope. Her boyfriend was out of state, and as if the stigma of being a pregnant teen was not enough, she was experiencing deep guilt over how it would reflect on her family.
“Being pregnant at an early age, where I’m from, that’s like bringing shame to the family,” Quoi said. “I’m from Liberia in Africa, so I just felt embarrassed that I disappointed my mom. It was like a huge weight on my shoulders.”
Overwhelmed, Quoi left school, and did not return for four months as she weighed her options. She kept her secret from her grandparents, with whom she lived in Brockton, and from her mother, who lives in Philadelphia.
Eventually, Quoi’s mother found out about the pregnancy, offering support and advice.
“I was happy for the most part,” Quoi said, “but I knew for a fact that it was going to be tough.”
She enrolled in Brockton High School’s Project Grads, an alternative program for teen parents that provides day-care services so students can continue their education. But she found it increasingly difficult to keep up with school and her part-time job at a supermarket.
In April 2013, during school vacation week, she gave birth to her son, Marquis, by caesarean section. The recovery time prevented her from completing the school year.
Continuous arguments at home, including with a couple of uncles who judged her harshly for having a baby, led Quoi to move into a shelter with other teen mothers. She returned to Brockton High that September, in what would have been her senior year, but was told she would have to repeat her junior year.
Quoi said she thought often about Marquis.
“I want to give him things I never had before, and dropping out of school was something that never came to my mind,” she said. “I have to finish school.”
Quoi moved out of the shelter in April and is back at her grandparents’ house. Because all of her friends graduated on time last year, she has treated her senior year more like a job and less like a social affair.
Instead of spending money on senior year activities like the prom, Quoi is saving her earnings from her night shift fast-food restaurant job for an apartment where she can raise Marquis without having to depend on others. She is no longer with her son’s father.
With graduation looming, Quoi said she is excited about walking across the stage, shaking some hands, taking pictures, and moving on as quickly as possible so she can pick up more hours at work and get ready to attend Massasoit Community College this fall to study radiology.
“I’m not going to stop until I get a better life for me and my son,” she said. “I want to show him Mommy really tried to make this happen. Just because you get pregnant at an early age doesn’t mean that your life is over.”Katheleen Conti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKConti.