Hard work to finish school may help young mother

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 5, 2013

GOLD HILL — When Madelynn “Maddie” Luce got married at 16 years old and found out she was pregnant, she figured that a high school diploma was no longer in the picture for her.
Then, while she was visiting East Rowan High School with her newborn daughter — now 5 months old — Principal Kelly Sparger asked about her plans for the future.
She told him she was going to get a GED, and Sparger asked why she wouldn’t come back to school and get her diploma instead. “I said, ‘Is that really an option for me, being that I have Kayleigh?’” Luce said. “He was like, ‘We’ll work around you.’ He motivated me in a way that I wasn’t being motivated.”
Not only could she graduate, Sparger said, but she could catch up in one semester and walk with the rest of her class. Luce said she was shocked. She had missed required English and math classes, so Sparger suggested that she double up on those subjects.
“She was too smart to quit,” Sparger said. “It’s not like she couldn’t do it; it was just going to be difficult.”
As she worked hard to balance her classes, homework and child care, Sparger said he and Luce’s teachers reached out to help whenever they could.
“It’s hard to see somebody who makes that kind of effort and not give them every opportunity,” he said. “It’s going to be wonderful to watch her walk across the stage.”
Luce spent second period in guidance, where she worked on her senior paper and presentation — which she had just three weeks to finish.
She said her teachers have been a huge help to her. So has Luce’s mother-in-law, who stays with the couple and helps take care of Kayleigh.
“Anything I need, she’s here,” Luce said. “If it wasn’t for her, I honestly think that I would be ripping my hair out.”
She said it was tough and tiring to take care of her daughter while finishing school. But Kayleigh was her main motivation to stick with it, Luce said. Luce knew she would have a better chance at success in college with a diploma rather than a GED.
When Luce told her parents she wanted to marry her boyfriend, a senior named Johnathan Luce, they first refused to let her. As a rebellious high school junior, she reacted by saying she wanted to leave them. But after talking to her a bit more, Luce’s father actually signed the marriage license. The couple were wed in February 2012.
“There’s two things I had to promise my dad,” Luce said. “One, that I would raise my child in the Church of God, and two, that I would graduate high school and he would get to see me walk across the stage.”
She thought she wouldn’t be able to keep that second promise when the two moved to Florida, where some of her new husband’s family lives. When Luce went to enroll in a school there, many of her credits wouldn’t transfer, so she decided to drop out of school and work on earning a GED.
After a few weeks, Luce became homesick and the couple decided it was best to move back to North Carolina. Then, in April 2012, Luce and her husband were stunned by the news that she was pregnant. “I was bawling my eyes out, like, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do. … I don’t know how to feed and raise a kid,’” Luce said. “It was a reality check.”
Now, just more than a year later, the new mother says she is feeling happy and relieved — and a little wistful.
On Saturday, she will receive her diploma with the rest of the class of 2013 at East Rowan.
“I’m going to miss my friends and teachers,” she said. “I’m not going to miss all the work that it took, but it is worth it.”
Luce plans to enroll at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College and later become either a neonatal nurse or a teacher.
Johnathan, whose class has already graduated, earned his GED and plans to attend college, Luce said. He is working at Supply One until the two can get more firmly on their feet.
Luce said she’s glad she was able to go back to school and finish with her class, and her father encouraged her when she thought she couldn’t. “He was like, ‘Don’t settle for less, you’re better than that. You’re stronger. You can make it through it all,’” Luce said.
Luce said she wants to give others the same encouragement. “You’re capable of anything that you set your mind to,” she said. “Go out there, follow your dreams and don’t give up, because if you do, you’ll be kicking yourself in the tail later on.”

Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
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