Looking smart in a crisp white and navy sheath, Nakia Stephens strode to the stage of her high school auditorium and invited her mother to join her. Nakia spoke with confidence as she introduced Delores Stephens to the audience. Then Nakia, 17, faced her mother and prepared to recite a thank-you speech.
Instead, she burst into tears. "Mom, I really love you," Nakia finally managed through sobs, her face buried in the older woman's arms. Her mother, too, was crying.
There were many moments like that, and many tissues, as Baltimore's Paquin School held it's annual Mother's Day celebration yesterday. In what has become a ritual at the school for pregnant girls and teen mothers, each student was invited to join her mother on the stage and publicly express thanks, love or other feelings.
"Often, parents and kids don't communicate, particularly things of the heart," Paquin's principal, Dr. Rosetta Stith, said later. "Officially saying 'I love you, I need you' -- most of our girls haven't done that. And when they say it here, they mean it."
Recognizing that some of her students cannot invite their mothers or don't want to, Dr. Stith tells the girls to bring someone they feel has helped them. "One girl brought a woman who has taken her in. Because her own mother cannot accept [her daughter's pregnancy] yet," Dr. Stith said. Another brought her father, thanking him for being "my father and my mother" through her childhood.
Many of the girls who have already had their babies thanked their moms for "standing by me" through pregnancy and birth. In one particularly moving tribute, a student praised her mother's courage in returning to high school and then college after raising two children alone.
Dr. Stith said that asking the girls to contemplate the ways in which their mothers have helped "reinforces for them the job that is ahead for them as mothers, and how important that job is."
After the ceremony, Delores Stephens, 47, said she hadn't been prepared for Nakia's tears. "She's usually so strong she can handle anything," she said. Mrs. Stephens, a diet clerk at Baltimore County General Hospital, was 19 and a high school graduate when she had her first child. She was distraught when Nakia, then 15, told her she was pregnant. "But then I resolved myself to the fact that we just had to go from there," Mrs. Stephens recalled.
Nakia's son, Troy, is 16 months old now. His mother says she is determined to finish high school, then attend college and law school. Her teachers have told her she has the grades, Nakia said, "but they say I'll have to work even harder in college than I do now."