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To the Back of the Line

As I watch the story unfold about the Arkansas student Kymberly Wimberly I find myself uneasy about the facts being reported and how they're slowly coming out, but I'm watching with great interest. The best possible newsworthy article I have seen thus far is this one by Jeneba Ghatt of The Washington Times. The short version, if you'll permit me, is that Kymberly's high school GPA was enough to award her the honor of being Valedictorian, but that her school principal decided to award a Co-Valedictorian to a white student as well. Kymberly, who is black, has a mom who works in the school and overheard someone say that Kymberly's appointment to this honored position would be considered "a big mess". What I learned from today's article is that she is also a teen parent and the first CNN article I read was quite blase about that and mentioned it in passing. Ghatt's article mentions it in the first paragraph and extolls praise on Kymberly for finishing with top honors.

When I "liked" the article for Facebook it comes with a stock photo of none other than Bristol Palin so I immediately UNliked it because I don't want her on my page. Bristol has said a number of ridiculous things most recently that she had her virginity "stolen" from her which erases any culpability of getting pregnant in the first place. After all this time she ought to be ashamed that she's still trying to look virginal and innocent. Last year I read that Palin decided to go on Dancing With The Stars and would be putting off going to college because, with a baby and being a new mom, it was just "too hard". I let that sink in as I thought about doing the same thing with an infant at home and returning to my sophomore year and then later when I brought along a 3-year old to college with me. If I had the things at my disposal that Bristol has then it wouldn't have been nearly the struggle that it was. Her immaturity and ignorance and total foolishness embarrass me as a woman and a mother and as someone who has been in the same boat. Except, I took responsibility for getting pregnant and didn't blame shift.

Kymberly's story intrigues me because I also remembered that Halle Berry mentioned being awarded Homecoming Queen at her Ohio high school and how they pulled the same thing there by appointing a white Co-Queen so there wouldn't be any trouble. Our three stories collide when I recall being my school's Homecoming Queen in 1987, a year after giving birth to Mallory. My older sister, Erin, overheard a school secretary saying that it was shame I won and that it was, also, a "big mess" to which my sister responded by telling her off. I'm pretty sure the mouthiness thing runs in my family. When I recall that hurtful time I remember being lined up before the big pep rally at school and how they had all the nominees line up outside the gym in order. The girls on one side, boys on the other. Some adult was looking at a list and pointing at us to stand here or there and the king and queen were to be last in line. At this point, none of us knew who won so we all stood around looking nervously. All I could think was that I was amazed to even be there because I knew how becoming a teen mom looked to people. The adult, and I can't even recall who it was, looked at her list and up at me with a disgusted look (now that part I can remember) and stood with her hands on her hips and tilted her head.

"You. To the back of the line."

That was how she told me I was Homecoming Queen. There was no "Congratulations!" or "You won!" (because my high school voted on these things) or any kind of pomp and circumstance that I assumed would accompany this. I was fortunate in that the king, a boy named Todd, was kind to me about it but he missed her dismissive attitude towards me. He helped me put on my crown and sash and we held hands walking into the gym, but it was too late to enjoy it. That teacher spoiled it for me and let me know her displeasure at my winning.

I realize this isn't like earning good grades or achieving anything academically. Truth be told, my grades went down considerably in high school. As a 9th grader I was in honors courses but when I returned to school in the fall with a 3-month old daughter my courses had been changed and I wasn't allowed to be in the prestigious Humanities course that all my former classmates attended. My high school course plan that originally read "College Bound" had that crossed out at the top and was replaced with "Trade School". I spent the next 3 years fighting that and trying to get someone to take me seriously and help me go to school with a kid and we all know how that turned out. I'd like to staple my master's degree to someone's forehead at that school, but it's okay. I've gotten over that.

Things to note: blue grease pencil mark where the yearbook cropped this original photo and braces on my teeth. Oh, high school years, how you hated me.

Whatever news continues to come out about Kymberly I hope it turns out well for her and that the school's policy didn't take into account that she was a teen mother and that was the real "mess" referred to by employees. Many schools also award Salutatorians for the second ranking graduating senior, so I'm unclear as to why they don't employ this policy, but it's clear that there is more to the story.

Kymberly's story, of struggling against multiple odds, is yet to be written by her and I only hope for the best. To have an officially appointed adult in a school second guess how people will "take" the notion of a top student being Black is a slap in the face. Especially after working so hard and getting back to school 3 weeks after giving birth. Taking into account that the black population in the school is 50% is even more so and the larger issue they will have to deal with is having so few of those black students take upper level AP courses.

If you ever happen to read this, Kymberly, let me be a school administrator and former teen mom that encourages you to never listen to anyone who tells you to get to the back of the line. You deserve better than that.

Best of luck not stapling your future degree to the head of your principal.
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Reader Comments (20)

Kymberly is to be celebrated, not marginalized. She's a role model to me and I am well past her, age-wise.

As for the school administration, I have two words for them: "Glass Houses."

July 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobin

When I read about this incident, I thought the 'big mess' had more to do with her being a teen mom than a black student. Of course the combination probably didn't help.

I am glad she has the support of her mother, and she is not letting this define her.

You were an adorable homecoming queen! Talk about carrying yourself with grace in the face of pain, insult and injury. I applaud your classmates for their choice of homecoming queen. You have been a winner for a long time, my friend.

July 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAngie

Where's Suebob? I wanna borrow her stapler and head to your old school & Kymberly's current one.

July 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKaren Sugarpants

"If you ever happen to read this, Kymberly, let me be a school administrator and former teen mom that encourages you to never listen to anyone who tells you to get to the back of the line. You deserve better than that."


July 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermoosh in indy.

I had something very smart to say, I'm sure, but now I am too distracted by that photo. Your high school had babies as homecoming candidates?? You guys are like CHILDREN! I remember high schoolers looking much older when I was one. We were practically adults!

July 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMiss Britt

You are a living example of success and I to wish Kymberly the same. Pushing to get good grades and get ahead is hard, and with a baby even more so. It just makes me sad. I would of told whomever at Crete off also. We really liked you in school, and you deserved homecoming queen, you made the very best of your situation and owned it. LOVE that about you!! I have a very nice Swingline stapler you can use to post your master degree in the correct place if you need it.

July 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle Roberts-Nanni

Kelly, I wish I knew Kymberly. First to congratulate her accomplishments so far and second to give her your post! Well, said.

July 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie

I read your post out loud to my boys and then we discussed how ludicrous it is that Kymberly's school would do that to her, and how ludicrous it was for your school to assume that your goals for your career had changed just because you had a baby.

After I told them that you were a school administrator with a Master's Degree, Nathan said "yeah, she proved her school wrong, LIKE A BOSS."

July 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth @Table4Five

You were as beautiful in high school as you are now.

Wonderful post!

July 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEllen G

I kind of like everything you said about the situation and every comment people made, too. You're cute as a bug in that picture! clarification: a cute bug.

July 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteroccula

I remember my mom telling me her high school story. This was in the sixties and she became pregnant at 16. Back then, once a teen had her baby she was supposed to be sent to another school but the school let her come back. My mom was on the Dean's list and everything but when it came time for graduation, they did not let her walk.

Her mom had to pick up her diploma. This all came out one day when I found her um Key? (the thing you hang off your grad cap with the year you graduated on it) in my grandmother's stuff and my mom had never seen it.

My mom has passed away but I remember that story and it's one of my favorites. It just reinforced my opinion that my mom was awesome.

July 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLea

I'd not heard about this before I read your post. It's amazing that something like this can still happen in this "enlightened" age.

July 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKathy G

This whole thing has reminded me of the Judy Blume-style book Mr and Mrs Bo Jo Jones, in which a high school girl gets pregnant and so she and her boyfriend have to get married hastily and then she sits around their little apartment all day, gestating, because pregnant girls can't go to school and wives don't have jobs. sigh.

July 28, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteroccula

I never fail to be impressed by your story. (And nauseated by Bristol Palin's.)

In a few of the stories I've read about Kymberly, there's been discussion of a school or district policy concerning continuous enrollment as a requirement for being awarded valedictorian. No idea whether this is true or a smoke screen, but even if it's the former, this situation was still handled extremely poorly by the school. I agree; there must be much more to the story.

Regardless of policy or yet-to-be-revealed details, Kymberly's GPA is the highest in her graduating class, and I applaud her for that - no one can ever take that accomplishment away.

July 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJulie Marsh

I'm most curious what the other students have to say about all this. It would be sad if another generation accepts this type of behavior as the norm. If this happened in my school years ago, half the school would have turned in their diplomas until this was changed. Don't kids have any spirit anymore?

July 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNeil

I wasn't familiar with Kymberly's story, but read your post as a fellow Springfield blogger. One of my biggest regrets when I hear stories like Kymberly's is that there are many who deny that racism is still an issue in this country. As disconcerting is the discrimination that young mothers face. Sex is a very real, natural urge that can't be done away with. I strongly believe that, although becoming a teen mother is sure to make a girl's life incredibly more challenging, that pregnancy and motherhood should never be shamed. Society's institution of marriage isn't what validates the experience of motherhood or the life of an infant. Life is an incredible, beautiful thing to be celebrated regardless of the parents' age or legal status. Anyway, I'll get off my high horse... Just wanted to congratulate you on your motherhood AND your academic/professional accomplishments. Thank you for bringing awareness to these important issues!

- Sarah

July 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah E.

Whoa- I missed the teen parent part. She was a mom, a teen, and valedictorian! Holy cow- I imagine that to be a huge accomplishment to be celebrated- not "shared" with a co-student.

Would an addict who achieved this same valedictorian status be allowed to hold the title solo? celebrated for the seemingly unsurmountable achievement?

Not the same, I realize- doesn't society think teen parenthood is something to be ashamed of?

What say you?

July 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTricia

Neil, I have to completely agree with you on that. I would hope that Kymberly's classmates were somehow angered over her having to share it, too, but if the Iron Fist of the administration is anything like I've read then they're probably too scared to buck it.

Tricia, society will ALWAYS find a way to shame a woman/girl. I truly believe this because of what we see perpetuated in the media. There's just no way to have a baby out of wedlock and NOT get crap from it. The boys/men are ALWAYS off the hook.

July 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMocha Momma

Ain't that the truth?

July 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTricia

AMEN 2X to this entire post. And how cute you are in your homecoming dress! Love it.

July 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLos Angelista

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