100 teen parents celebrate with high school degrees

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) Graduating high school is tough enough, but for 100 teen parents, Friday's ceremony was an even more hard-fought victory.

The Kern County Department of Human Services awarded students for completing their high school educations while parenting young children.

The students were enrolled in a program called Cal-Learn, which encourages youth to not only complete high school but aspire to higher education.

When Melissa Ceja learned she was pregnant she was still a high school cheerleader.

"I was 16 when I got pregnant. I found out when I was five months along," she said.

Despite the challenges Ceja faced, she found the support she needed to finish school by enrolling in the Cal-Learn program

Ceja said the program motivated her to graduate from high school and earn a college education. She said she wants to be able to provide not only for herself but for her young son.

Ceja won a $250 scholarship to attend college next year. She will attend Bakersfield College in the fall and plans to transfer to California State University, Bakersfield to study journalism and communication. She said she hopes to one day be a TV news reporter.

Kenya Gonzalez graduated from high school last year as a Cal-Learn student. She attended the Cal-Learn Graduation Celebration on Friday afternoon to share her story and encourage other students. Gonzalez now attends BC. She also plans to transfer to CSUB, studying mental health.

"If we want something in our life, we need to fight for it, we need to get to the point where we have it, if we want to be proud of ourselves," Gonzales said.

Gonzalez has a 6-month-old daughter, whom she attributes her scholastic success to.

Brandon Evans is the program director for the Department of Human Services and said a high school diploma is just the first step for these teens.

"In addition to just helping them finish school, our staff when they work with them are constantly helping them to think beyond that. 'What is that career goal? What is that higher educational goal?" Evans said.