What Samantha Locke needed, her mother supplied.
At 17 years old and a-soon-to-be teenage mother, Locke faced uncertainly about a great deal, including high school, she said. But her mom was there to put the right words into her daughter’s ears.
“She pushed me and told me that I am no different from anybody else, that I’m not a victim in this situation,” Locke said, dressed in her royal blue graduation gown on May 23.
Those were the words Locke said kept her motivated after the birth of her child to continue through high school and even start working toward a college degree.
And after she and the 39 other graduates of Kenai Alternative High School walked across the floor of the school’s gymnasium to receive their diplomas, the first person she ran to see was her son, Matthew.
Because of her mother’s words, Locke said she didn’t have any doubts she would graduate high school despite being a teenage mother. It was Locke’s goal, she said, to beat the odds and expectations against young moms.
“People don’t look at being a pregnant teenager as a good thing,” she said. “They want you to fail.”
However, Locke had a message for the younger girls.
“It’s hard, but you can do it if you are determined,” she said. “Don’t let other people bring you down because they will try.”
Locke, who had attended four different high schools in as many years starting in Ohio, said it felt “amazing” to “finally” graduate. But, she wants to graduate again, albeit from college next time.
Currently she is fully enrolled at Kenai Peninsula College. For her ability to juggle high school, college and the demands of motherhood, Locke was awarded the “Balancing Award” during the night’s ceremonies.
“I’m glad that someone can recognize it that I’m doing a lot,” she said. “It is hard and I’m glad to see that it is paying off.”
Eventually, Locke said she wants to open a salon.
“I like the environment,” she said. “I’ll be doing make up. I just like the family and the friends you get to make and talk to all day.”
Looking around at the rest of her graduating class, she said Kenai Alternative, which is a second chance school for many students, is important in the community.
“A lot of these students, if they didn’t have (the Kenai Alternative staff) pushing them, they wouldn’t be here, or they wouldn’t be in school at all,” she said.
Not far from where Locke stood was graduate Jorrie Seidl, 18, who was talking with friends after the ceremony.
Seidl came to the school when he was a junior — only seven high school credits to his name. Six months later, he had 14.
“It’s a great school, great community that feels like a family unit,” he said.
But, Seidl said there was time when graduating high school wasn’t a goal for him.
“I just wanted out of school,” he said. “I didn’t want to deal with the bull crap drama of traditional school where people were giving me crap. So, I came here and I got it done fast.”
He once suffered with a lack of motivation to graduate, but the solution to that problem would lead to his future. Seidl landed in a wilderness therapy program for troubled youth through the Alaska Crossings organization.
“The first time I went in I loved it,” he said. “The second time I went in I kind of got in trouble on purpose so I could go back.”
The program set him on a straight path, one of self-motivation and discovery of new passion.
“It made me realize that I am not really troubled, it is that I don’t have anyone to really appreciate the positive things,” he said. “My talents aren’t really in society. Which is another reason I debate. A lot of the things I debate about are how society should change.”
Seidl’s award was the “Great Debater” award.
“When I have debate class, it is a passionate thing for me,” he said. “I get into arguments.”
The free-thinking philosophy Seidl developed in the wilderness therapy program fits with both his debating passion and future in the psychology field. Eventually, Seidl said he wants to be a wilderness counselor like those he received help from before graduating high school.
“I don’t really want to fix people,” he said. “I want people to be able to understand themselves and in the process start understanding more about other people.”
Seidl’s advice to younger students was short.
“Live free, but don’t live stupid,” he said.