Like many in her class, Miranda Tagle of Mathis had decorated the top of her mortarboard. While many of the messages were flippant or congratulatory, hers carried words pertinent and dramatic and personal: only one out of three teen mothers are graduated from high school.
As the Bobcat Band fought to keep Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance in tune, Miranda was more than aware she had beaten the odds, even if the statistics are unreliable.
WHILE THE abstinence-only organization My Choice to Wait says that only 13 percent of teenage girls who become pregnant finish high school, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy puts the figure at 33 percent, but another of its websites claims it is 40 percent. However, the American Civil Liberties Union places the number at 70 percent. Pay your money; take your choice.
Whatever the exact figure, Do Something.org, a not-for-profit organization that claims 1.6 million members, flatly states the United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrial world — 700,000 a year — costing the taxpayer, according to the Centers for Disease Control, $11 billion a year.
And the increasingly higher scholastic expectations competing with the responsibilities of parenthood places such high demands on teen mothers that many find their position untenable.
A lot of weight was resting on Miranda’s 5-foot, 1-inch frame.
SITTING IN the bleachers behind her were her mother, Cristina, and the object of her determination and pride, Aiden, her 2-year-old son.
If the thrust of the speakers was for the Class of 2013 to think of the future, Miranda’s focus kept shifting to almost three years before when a doctor in Corpus Christi diagnosed her vomiting spells as being two months pregnant.
The doctor told Miranda; Miranda told her mother.
“We both broke into tears,” Cristina says, “I was shocked.”
And nothing was ever quite the same.
“I told a friend I was pregnant. That was on a Friday. When I came back to school on Monday, everybody knew.”
ONCE THE news was out, she says her friends then told her about her boyfriend’s reputation. “It was a kind of joke to them — because they knew how he was. I wish they had told me earlier.”
An immediate consequence was that the school’s liability policy stipulated that Miranda — long active in volleyball and softball — had to give up athletics.
Aiden was born Sept. 28, 2011.
His father, a successful member of the school’s football team, showed up that night to see his son — but only after football practice.
“My mother wasn’t angry with me,” Miranda remembers. “She was disappointed.”
“At first I was very angry with him,” Cristina admits. “But it takes two; they both were at fault.”
Grandchildren, however, work their own magic. “She came around,” Miranda smiles.
But not everyone. “My older brother was really angry,” she says. “He told me, ‘You should have made better choices.’”
SKIDMORE-TYNAN Independent School District policy allows schedule flexibility for students in need; Miranda was back in three weeks.
“I did schoolwork at home, but the first day back at school was...draining.”
But she was determined to stay in school, even when she had doubts.
“One time I said in class that maybe I should just quit. We were all just joking around. The next thing I know, the principal called me into her office. ‘What’s this I hear about your planning to leave school?’”
If Miranda wanted to stay home from school for a day, Cristina wouldn’t have it. Miranda credits support from her mother, her friends and her teachers for her staying in school.
This fall, she plans to enroll at Coastal Bend College.
“Originally, I was going to major in physical therapy,” she says.”But now I want to go into cosmetology.”
The salient point, she says, is not which major, but getting a four-year college degree.
IN THE ensuing years since Aiden’s birth, her relationship with his father has evolved and deepened, but cautiously.
“We still see each other,” Miranda admits. “Last Valentine’s Day, he asked me to marry him. We call ourselves engaged, but I’ve told him it’s going to take a long time for me to regain trust.”
During a conversation five days after the graduation ceremony, she was not wearing her engagement ring.
Despite that nationwide, only 20 percent of teenage fathers marry the girl they impregnated, Miranda’s mother is optimistic.
“I think they eventually will marry, but it’s going to take some time, Cristina says.
Ask Miranda what she has learned from all this, and she is at a loss for words. How has she changed, then?
“I’m more mature,” she flatly states, and exhibits it by explaining one of the reasons she will enroll at CBC this fall “is not just for me, but as an example for my son.”
SOME OF the student speakers at the graduation ceremony labeled the moment as bittersweet: happiness for finishing school; sadness for leaving.
For Miranda, it was bittersweet for a different reason.
In mere days, Maria, her grandmother, would succumb from too many ailments and too few cures. But she would live long enough to know her granddaughter, against the odds, with her son in the stands, marched to the podium in a royal purple gown and a cap bearing a tassel and a testimony, and returned a graduate.
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.