Guest blog post by Corinne Zay, March for Life intern
Making major news recently is the story out of Hagerstown, Maryland of a pregnant high school Senior, Maddi Runkles, denied the opportunity to participate in graduation from her small Christian academy. Maddi is a straight A student who has been involved in many extracurricular activities at her small school, which requires all students to sign a Christian code of conduct to attend. Included in the code of conduct is the concept that the sexual act is meant for marriage, and the school rightly expects students to abide by this rule.
Earlier this year Maddi discovered that she was pregnant with a baby boy due in September. Acknowledging that she broke the code of conduct, Maddi apologized to the school administration. The school board determined that Maddi would lose her position on Student Council and involvement in extracurricular activities at school, in addition to prohibiting her to walk at her high school graduation in June. Major media outlets, including the New York Times, Washington Post and NBC have reported this story, which has remained in the headlines for days:
- Christian school: Teen banned from graduation ‘not because she is pregnant but because she was immoral’
- Christian School Bans Pregnant Senior From Graduation, Pro-Lifers Respond
- Pregnant Maryland Student Barred From High School Graduation Ceremony
- Pregnant at 18. Hailed by Abortion Foes. Punished by Christian School.
Despite the consequences of her life being altered, and her graduation experience being diminished, outcries of support have come from various pro-life organizations with encouragement for her strong courageous decision to choose life and proceed with her pregnancy. Students for Life of America has voiced their support for Maddi and helped her to embrace her decision of life, including having her as a speaker at their #Sockit2PP campaign in efforts to defund Planned Parenthood.
This support for pregnant mothers is crucial and at the heart of the pro-life movement. March for Life, where I have the blessing of interning this summer, has also released statements regarding the need to support students in this situation with life-affirming actions. The value of the child’s life needs support, in addition to the mothers. Although Maddi may have been denied the support she needed from her school, she has been a tremendous voice of bravery for other pregnant and parenting students. She has joined these organizations by lovingly accepting their support and is paying it forward as a sign of hope for future mothers.
Maddi has drawn attention to the challenge student mothers and fathers face, particularly in Christian culture environments. Maddi and other parenting students inspire universities and schools across America to care for their beloved mothers on campus. Being pregnant on a college campus and in a high school is naturally very intimidating. However, in particular, devout Christian schools may encourage an environment that ironically creates a greater temptation to abort because of the increased likelihood of perceived shame with peers and faculty. The Christian values of love and mercy are so easily distorted by a focus on justice and pride. Even in my own backyard, I fight this distortion of good as President of Ave for Life.
Just this year we launched our first initiative of Pregnant on Campus at my college, Ave Maria University. Ave Maria University is a small Catholic college located in southwest Florida. The campus culture at Ave Maria is one of great joy. Students often attend daily mass, engage in discussions about faith, and work hard to become holy each day (not just on campus). Although Ave Maria University does not have a code of conduct, the moral standard each student holds themselves to is simply understood on campus and truly geared toward being the best version of ourselves.
Although this culture is overwhelmingly positive, Ave Maria is very much full of humans. It is in our human nature that we fail and then learn the importance of mercy and love towards each other. It was in my experience in leading Ave for Life that I had the opportunity to learn authentic love of the pregnant mother.
In February, one of our board members and friends came to me and told me that we had a pregnant student on campus. I was so excited to be able to serve this mother and get to know her. It was then about a month later that I met Beth and learned more about her. Here was a young freshman student at Ave Maria pregnant with a child and we as a pro-life student organization had the opportunity to support.
Ave for Life had discussed beginning a program “Pregnant on Campus” prior to learning about Beth, but God’s timing was impeccable. We began planning and discussing the importance of this issue on our campus. We knew the heart of the issue was how we as a campus would adapt to become a welcoming and loving environment for a pregnant and parenting student.
With the culture of Ave Maria focused on moral values and virtue, many on campus neglected the possibility or idea of a pregnant student. Our Board took this question to the administration and together began working towards solutions. In working with Beth and a handful of other pregnant mothers on our campus we learned how to better support students in this situation.
First, we considered resources that we could offer pregnant and parenting students. We talked with residence hall directors, administration, and local clinics about the opportunities and legal rights we could offer to pregnant and parenting students. Next, we began to plan to make physical improvements on our campus such as adding changing tables to bathrooms and high chairs to dining areas. Finally, and most importantly, we observed the cultural change and discussion that needed to occur on our campus regarding pregnancy. While our campus believes in preserving sexual intimacy for marriage, we also believe in mercy and want to be as life-affirming as possible. Regardless of how a baby is conceived, every life is a gift and a miracle to be received with love!
This past March this year, we launched our Pregnant on Campus initiative to helps students further understand the best ways to support a woman who is pregnant on campus. One of the most important lessons we learned is that because this has not been discussed on campus, it is possible and even probably that many pregnancies have gone unnoticed and unannounced; some that may have even sadly resulted in abortion. Our most important goal with this initiative is to show our brothers and sisters in Christ that Ave Maria is a place where motherhood should be embraced.
It is with this story and goal in mind that I share our authentic Ave for Life culture and encourage other schools and campuses to support your students. One of the simplest things we can do each day is to love our neighbor. We do not know the cross they are carrying. Maybe it is their work stress, maybe it is their day to day tasks, but maybe it is an unexpected pregnancy. Love your neighbor where they are at. To Beth and to Maddi: we are praying for you and we appreciate your unspoken courage in choosing life!
“I want you to be concerned about your next door neighbor. Do you know your next door neighbor?” – Mother Teresa