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A Mothers Journey to Graduation

Emma Garrard -- Story and photosSierra Sun
Emma Garrard/Sierra SunMaribel Chavez gives a senior reflections speech at graduation.
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Waking up at 4 a.m. the morning of her graduation after only an hour of sleep, Maribel Chavez was tired but anxious to receive her diploma from Sierra High School. The day started out like many others for the 17-year-old senior. Like most teenagers, she tried on a few outfits, then donned her graduation gown for the first time. And suddenly it all seemed strange. Is it supposed to look like this? Maribel asked as she looked in a full-length mirror at the black nylon robe draped over her body. Its a weird feeling. I feel excited, sad, scared.She nervously straightened her naturally curly hair and then changed her mind and went back to curls. For most high school students, getting out of bed to prepare for school is hard enough. But for Chavez, looking her best was only the first step.Inside the three-generation, one-bedroom mobile home Maribel shares with her parents, her 4-year-old daughter, Saray, played with a Dora the Explorer doll on her grandparents bed. Maribel, finally happy with her own hair, started to braid her daughters long, wavy hair.

The last semester of school had been hectic, and Maribel worked down to the wire, writing papers and taking her final math test just in time to graduate. Maribel is a single mother raising a daughter, working at the Van Heusen outlet, and taking college classes around volunteer stints at the hospital. But balancing a seniors busy schedule wasnt so bad compared to the first years of young motherhood, Maribel said.There were times when I was tired and I thought I couldnt make it, Maribel said. But then I thought I had been through tougher times, so why not go through this.Cindy Maciel, the program director for the Sierra Teen Education and Parenting Program at Sierra High School, considered graduating a positive hurdle for Maribel.For as crazy as the last few weeks have been …, Maciel said. It was a breeze compared to everything else shes been through. One of the toughest times in Maribels life turned out to be her greatest motivation. After her first year attending Sierra High School with new-born Saray, Maribel left the country to join Sarays father, Too Magaa, in Mexico. Magaa was also from Truckee, but had gone to jail for statutory rape and later deported. By Maribels reckoning, their relationship was both mentally and physically abusive. During her time in Mexico, Maribel had a miscarriage with her second child. Seeing widespread poverty in Mexico also made Maribel realize the opportunities she had in America as someone born and raised Truckee.After the experience in Mexico, I realized how important education is; you can succeed and have a better life, Maribel said. I came back and started to focus and complete my requirements (to graduate.)

Maribel knows she could not have got this far without the support of her family and the STEPP program. Her parents, Moises and Maria Chavez, have helped her raise Saray at home, and her four older brothers have encouraged her to keep going in school. Maribels brother Jose Chavez, the second of four older brothers, graduated from Truckee High School in 1998. He told her he knows the importance of a high school diploma when applying for jobs.Im glad shes got all the way through, her brother said. I will help out if she wants to go to college.The morning of her graduation ceremony the phone at Maribels home was ringing nonstop.Everyone is calling her to say she was doing well and to keep up the good work, said Maria Chavez, who said she never had the opportunity to go to school in Mexico. Mothers are able to do it; it all depends on if you want to put in the effort. Maribel said she considers the staff and students at Sierra High School as family. They were very understanding and you got to know them more, Maribel said. The students also support each other, and Maribel said she encourages younger moms to stick with the program. Even if youre pregnant, dont quit. Its worth it in the end and it will get you somewhere later in life, Maribel said. As for other high school students, Maribel said she hopes they dont grow up too fast like she did.Live your age, Maribel said.



Since Maribel was a little girl she has wanted to work in the medical field. She enrolled in the Fast Track Program at Sierra College in pursuit of a nursing degree, and a month ago she started volunteering and job shadowing at Tahoe Forest Hospital. Several scholarships she received at graduation will help her follow her dream. This is a good place for her to start, said Debra Jorgensen, who works at the Occupational Health and Wellness Clinic at Tahoe Forest Hospital. Maybe someday shell come back and do nursing internship. As Maribel spoke in front of the crowd at graduation, Maciel realized the timid little girl she met years ago was now a confident young woman.Weve been on a long journey together, Maciel said. Well all be going to her college graduation. Maribel was one of seven mothers and 28 students who graduated from Sierra High Schools Class of 2007 last Friday.


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