17-year-old mom ready to graduate

Published 8:41 am Friday, June 18, 2010

FRANKLIN—Paula Buck will walk across the stage to receive her diploma from Franklin High School today. When she does, the 17-year-old, her family and friends will undoubtedly be proud of her many accomplishments.

Scholar. Cheerleader. Athlete.

And single mother. Her daughter, Makiyah Alyson Buck, will be 2 years old in July.

“I knew it was going to be hard, but I never thought about dropping out,” Paula said Thursday. “I didn’t get this far just to drop out.”

Paula credits her parents — Milton and Rosette Buck — and her teachers, especially Linda Soucek, for motivating her to achieve her many accomplishments.

“They just pushed me to do better,” Paula said. “They saw my potential, and they knew what I was capable of. They really did help me a lot.”

Paula will be graduating with honors, a 3.48 grade point average, and is ninth in her class of 94. She’s received a governor’s certificate of recognition for completing the early college scholars program, been recognized by the U.S. Marine Corps for academic achievement and leadership as a high school scholar, and was on the principal’s list for academic achievement for the first semester of this year.

Paula also has been a varsity cheerleader, serving as captain of the football and basketball squads. She’s also participated in cheerleading competitions, and even did a stint on the school’s track team.

Although the future looks bright for Paula today, she admits that she was devastated when she first learned that she was pregnant.

The news, she said, “was the worst thing ever in my life. I just thought the whole world ended. I told my parents and they said ‘you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do now.’ They don’t believe in abortions or anything like that — that was out of the question.”

According to the Virginia Department of Health, teenage mothers are less likely to graduate high school and more likely to live in poverty and require welfare assistance, when compared to their non-pregnant teenage peers.

Data from the Western Tidewater Health District shows the City of Franklin averages about 158 births every year to teenage girls between the ages of 15 and 19. The birth rate was 75 per 1,000 teenage girls in the same age range.

Franklin has the fourth-highest rate for teenage births in Virginia, after the cities of Petersburg, Roanoke and Hopewell.

“It was really hard at first,” Paula said. “Everybody was shocked because it was me, and I’m not even like … I’m just a good, all-around individual, so they were shocked, disappointed. And people were judging me because I was young and with a child. But I got through it.”

Today, Paula plays with Makiyah on the front stoop of her house and gives her hugs. The little girl has barrettes in her hair, is curious about things like medals and digital recorders, and swings her hips to dance – no music necessary.

Paula smiles. “They pushed me to do more,” she said of her parents and teachers. “Ever since I had my child, I have to think about her. They have wanted me to do something with my life.”

That something could possibly be the U.S. Navy. Paula said she wants to enlist, but isn’t sure what job she’d like to do in the service. Her plans after the Navy are to go to college to study to become a dentist.

Paula said Makiyah’s father, Malik Brown, is a good father and is helpful. They have no plans to get married.

“He’s there, he does OK,” Paula said of Brown, who graduated from FHS last year. “He’s a good father.”

Paula said she is a member of O’Berry AME Zion Church in Courtland, but has recently been attending First Baptist Church in Franklin.

That reflects in her advice to other single mothers who are still in high school.

“Every decision you make, every choice you make, you have to think about your child first,” Paula said. “You have to put your child first. And just pray, put everything in God’s hands. Everything will be OK. You just need to do the best that you can do.”