Valedictorian not slowed down by unexpected pregnancy
Genesis Lopez Euceda was right on track.
A straight-A student since elementary school, she was near the top of her class at West Caldwell High School.
Then, at 16, she found out she was pregnant.
That could have halted everything. Fewer than four in 10 – just 38 percent – of girls who become mothers in high school ever finish with a degree, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Even fewer do well enough to continue their education.
On May 24, she stood in front of her class and spoke as their co-valedictorian.
Finding out she was pregnant was heart-stopping for Euceda. She didn’t know her parents would react, and she didn’t know whether keeping the baby was the best option.
But she knew she was staying in school.
Euceda had always been a straight-A student with full loads of honors and Advanced Placement courses. She loves numbers and hopes to one day head the financial side of a company.
She set her sights on the valedictorian spot at the end of her junior year, when she served as co-chief of West’s junior marshals – meaning she was tied for first in her class.
For a while, it was looking like she’d be salutatorian, but in the 11th hour, she ended up in first place.
Of course, getting there wasn’t easy – especially since she was raising Aidan at the same time.
Aidan was born last May, and Euceda spent the summer months trying to slog through summer reading while taking care of a newborn.
When school started back in August, she enlisted the help of her own childhood babysitter. She’d ask for extra babysitting hours if she needed the time to study, and she worked when Aidan was sleeping.
It wasn’t easy, but she made it.
Trying to raise a child and her GPA at the same time taught Euceda about the reserves you can tap inside yourself, she said. It taught her that obstacles are real – perhaps never realer than for a young mother trying to complete a degree – but that you decide whether they trip you up.
And you decide whether the people who think you can’t do it are right.
“Everybody was like, ‘Oh, you’re not going to make it,’” Euceda said. “And that just made me strive more.”
Euceda found support from her parents, her peers, and from teachers and staff at West Caldwell. And on May 24, at graduation, she heard herself introduced as a victor, an inspiration – someone the school could hold up as an example of its very best.
That was surreal, to say the least. Even when you’re accomplishing things, you don’t really feel yourself doing it, Euceda explained. You’re just making it from day to day.
“That made me feel special,” Euceda said, talking about her reaction as she was introduced as West’s co-valedictorian. “It made me see that I really am achieving a lot.”
“A lot” is no overstatement. Euceda’s final GPA of 5.0 is two-tenths of a point short of the highest possible average under the weighted system, which takes into account the rigors of honors and AP classes. And of the $800,000 in educational scholarship money drawn by West Caldwell students this year, Euceda accounted for roughly an eighth, receiving more than $100,000 in scholarship funds.
In the fall, Euceda will attend UNC-Chapel Hill, and Aidan is coming with her. She considered going to Appalachian State, but the school no longer has parent-family housing on campus – and Chapel Hill had always been her first choice, anyway.
It’ll be different for Euceda, and she knows it will be stressful.
“It’s not going to be like I’m any freshman: ‘Oh, I’m by myself, I get to party,’” she said. “I’ll be taking care of my child."
But she said she has already learned she can do it – by taking hold of something that could have slowed her down, and deciding it wouldn’t, all the while telling herself the same thing: “I need to make something good out of this.”
“It’s about experiencing things and learning from your experiences,” Euceda said. “And putting your mistakes into use.”