Carrying More Than a High School Diploma


Photo Courtesy of Leilani Vance

Jocelyn Lopez, Editor

Senior year for high schoolers can be classified as the peak in their high school experience. Parties, prom, college applications, and preparing for graduation seem to be the top stressors in their lives. However, for 17-year-old Leilani Vance her definition of senior year can be defined as entirely different from the norm of Hueneme High School students. 

In June of 2021, Vance found herself staring back at two lines—two small red lines which could only read back as pregnant, ultimately changing the course of her senior year completely. She comments, “When I found out I was pregnant, I was shocked (like most). My first thought was college and how my plans would initially need some altering.” Considerably, high school is one of the most transformative times for a teen. Recognizing this, Vance knew she would not only have to share the news with her partner and family, but with a school of students, “I wasn’t worried about other people’s reactions outside of my family’s opinion. It didn’t matter to me what other people thought or wanted to define me as. My top priority was letting my family know before anyone else, which is why I decided to announce I was pregnant in a surprise gender reveal post on Instagram six months into my pregnancy for the rest of my friends and peers to see”. As Vance celebrated the news that she was expecting a baby boy, her Instagram comments flooded with supportive messages and overall joy. “I only had one bad reaction I could really recall. Other than that, I was blessed to have such a supportive environment, not only from family but friends and teachers. Friends came to my baby shower and teachers like Mrs. Morales, a Hueneme High School math teacher, went out of their way to buy me things such as diapers and formula.” Luckily, she was stocked and ready to go, excitedly waiting to meet her new son and greet him with the overflow of gifts they had received and shower him with love from everyone in her life.

Photo Courtesy of Leilani Vance

Still needing a handful of months left of school to complete, Vance became faced with the circumstance of how she would be balancing her school and personal life. “I had a pretty easy time managing my school work and I was still able to attend all my classes. However, further into my pregnancy, I definitely found myself eating a lot more, feeling nauseous, and having back pains from the desks at school.” While not facing any hardships with her academic performance, the sacrifices of some of her personal interests did surface. She voices, “I did have to quit sports such as water polo and hobbies like surfing which obviously sucked at the time, but I knew I would later enjoy doing those things with my little partner in crime by my side. I can’t wait till he’s a little older to have cute beach dates.” With that said, being a lover of all things affiliated with the ocean, Vance knew that her personal quirk would one-hundred-percent have influenced the name she would later choose for her son.

On February 13, 2022, Leilani Vance gave birth to her mini-me, a healthy baby boy whom she’d gifted the name of Kainalu, the ocean that billows in Hawaiian. Now freshly eighteen with a newborn in her hands, Vance was prepared to face those sleepless nights and struggle some days in adjusting to being a new mom that everyone had talked about. “I can definitely say people made it out to be way more difficult than what I actually experienced,” she jokes, “Or maybe I just got lucky with Kai (Kainalu). I can say my support system was undeniably so helpful in transitioning to becoming a new mom. My own mother was such a big help; I couldn’t be more thankful. Knowing I was loved and knowing people didn’t deem me immediately as an ‘unfit’ mom because of my age helped boost my confidence in knowing I could do it.” She was happy and thriving, but of course, shared that not everything was picture perfect and there were hard decisions she had to make.

Photo Courtesy of Leilani Vance

With college decisions around the corner, Vance understood it was time to decide where she would spend her next four years. She argues, “Your life of course changes after having a kid, and I did have to make harder decisions than just dropping some sport. Leading up to my senior year, I had dreamed of going to school in Hawaii, but I knew now that I would need to have a more realistic approach to where I wanted to attend. I committed to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo which offered equally good opportunities, daycare for Kai, and was closer to my family and his dad.” On the topic, Vance discussed a very prevalent stereotype she wanted to crush about teen moms and college, “I can say it really bothers me that a lot of people still think ‘Oh teen moms can’t go to college’ or ‘Your life is over, that’s complete, well for better use of another word, lie. I have a full ride to college and plan to major in architecture. I’ve had the best couple of months of my life with my son and friends. I’m still living life, I don’t believe for one second it’s over, my and Kai’s journey has just begun.” She glows during the interview as she smiles down at the baby in her arms, more than pleased to share her story.

While being asked about what she wishes she could have known before having a baby so young, she quips, “How great the epidural is.” We share a laugh, “No but seriously–readjusting your whole routine to accommodate a little person. I knew there would be change but now I realize you don’t cut your time in half, your time is your kid”. While not seeing any regret in how she spends her life now, Vance does advise younger audiences to wait. “I love my life, truly, but I would definitely tell the younger generation to wait. Not only is everyone sadly not granted the same support systems, but having a baby is not only a physical change, but an economic one as well.” Now as she plans her future step by step with Kainalu in mind, Vance expresses that being a teen mom did not discourage her from wanting more kids in the future.“I would love to give Kai a sibling…just one though!” she jokes as she swaddles Kai.

Photo Courtesy of Leilani Vance

With an immense love for her son, Leilani Vance prepares to graduate high school and start preparations for her big move into her new apartment. Ready for college, she excitedly anticipates all the new adventures that await Kai and her with the biggest smile on both their faces.