June 1, 1995 in Washington Voices

Full Of Success Wendy Leavitt Fought The Odds To Graduate As Valedictorian Of Her Class

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Tags:profile

Wendy Leavitt was a 17-year-old high school junior when she found out she was pregnant.

A student council representative who had lettered in soccer and track, Leavitt’s popularity at Central Valley High School quickly drained away.

“The news went all around school. I had no friends. Everyone was talking,” Leavitt said. “I just dropped my stuff and tried to run from the problem. I couldn’t handle it.”

Tonight, Leavitt will deliver the valedictorian’s speech at her graduation from Spokane Valley High School, the alternative school that was there when she needed it.

Leavitt finished her graduation requirements in March and landed a job as a teller at Spokane Teachers Credit Union.

In February, she had married Christopher Leavitt, her boyfriend of two years. She gave birth to Malia Ashlee Leavitt on July 10, 1994.

“I was determined to prove everybody wrong, that I wouldn’t be a dropout and be on the streets,” Leavitt said.

But it was a rocky road.

Before becoming pregnant, Leavitt’s life revolved around herself, her friends and sports. She worked hard at school and had never received a grade lower than a B.

“She was a good student, very bright,” said Terry Irwin, Leavitt’s counselor at CVHS. “The instructors liked her and wanted her to succeed.”

After Leavitt left Central Valley in November, she enrolled at Post Falls High School but dropped out after two months when morning sickness and the commute from the Valley, where she lived with her mother, stepfather and sister, grew too tough to handle. She also was holding down a full-time job as a secretary for a janitorial company.

For Leavitt, enrolling at Spokane Valley High in February of last year was like coming home. She fluorished in the alternative school’s personal environment.

Eleven students will graduate tonight, as opposed to the 350 graduating on June 11 from CVHS, the Valley’s largest high school.

“She found Spokane Valley and that was great,” said Leavitt’s mother, Teresa Burger. “I was real worried for her.”

At Spokane Valley, there was a childcare center for Malia, where Leavitt worked a one-hour shift every day and took parenting classes.

Leavitt also found students who had experiences similar to her own. She grew close to the other teenage mothers, who ranged in age from 14 to 18.

“We were all going through our own tragedies,” she said with a laugh. Some of the students had been kicked out of their houses. Some had been expelled from other schools. Others had just finished drug rehabilitation.

But all of them wanted to finish high school.

“I loved it there,” Leavitt said. “They treated me like a human, not just an ‘it.”’

When Leavitt found out she was pregnant, she had to grow up quickly, starting with deciding what to do.

Abortion was “not for me because I thought they were killing a (baby).” Adoption was out because Leavitt didn’t think she could handle giving her baby to someone else. “I didn’t think I could be that strong,” she said.

Deciding to have the baby meant planning a wedding and getting a job.

“All of a sudden, my responsibility was diapers and bills,” she said.

Her decision also meant defending herself to the public.

Once, when she was nine months pregnant and shopping for food, a man she didn’t know trailed her in the supermarket and yelled at her for being a pregnant teenager.

“I was just bawling, I was so humiliated,” she said. “It made me look at what the public thought when they see me.”

Although jarring, the experience has taught Leavitt about qualities she didn’t know she possessed.

Only self-motivated students excel in the alternative school’s courses, many of which revolve around home study.

Leavitt charged through, finishing two months ahead of her class.

And deciding to have the baby developed a determination in her that shined through when she applied for her current job at the credit union.

“The fact that she went out and finished (high school) against odds” worked in her favor, said Karen Blair, the teller superviser. “She has the ‘I-want-to-be-better’ type of attitude.”

Tonight, in front of her parents, husband and daughter, the 18-yearold mom will deliver a graduation speech for the Spokane Valley High School class of 1995.

“I will cry,” Burger said with a shaking voice last week as she thought ahead to her daughter’s graduation.

Although everything has worked out for Leavitt, she wouldn’t advise another pregnant teenager to do exactly as she did. Everyone needs to do what’s best for them, she said.

“You have to have a real steady strong relationship,” she said. “It’s so easy for one of the parents to walk out. You have to want to stick together.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

MEMO: (Story from Graduation special section in Valley Voice)

(Story from Graduation special section in Valley Voice)


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