Hundreds of adolescents gathered together at a youth summit at Kagman High School last Saturday to speak and discuss the issues affecting their lives. Organized by the Public School System's Youth Advisory Panel, middle and high school students and educators and mentors interacted with one another in a daylong forum that had the theme “Learning to Become a Better Me.”
The occasion was highlighted by the life story of a formerly rebellious and self-destructive teen, Darlene Debraoh Tudela, who inspired many of the youth participants with her life-affirming tale.
Now a successful mother and career woman, Tudela said she is a product of a broken family, which she believes was the root cause of all her troubles during her teenage years. At 17, she described herself as a partygoer, an alcohol and marijuana user, and “a very troubled adolescent.”
Reality came crashing down on her when she got pregnant at 20-a time that she said she was not ready for the responsibility. Tudela shared the many sufferings and challenges she encountered in the years she's been striving to make a living for herself and her child. Without any other choices, she was forced to leave her son with a family member so she could find a job elsewhere. She moved to Guam and, because she didn't finish her education, she couldn't land a permanent job.
“[In doing all these troubles] I thought I could hurt my parents. I thought they would suffer if I will not graduate from high school.but I am wrong. It's not them who suffer, but me,” she shared.
Tudela shared how she worked hard to get a job so she could continue her studies and provide for her now 6-year-old son. She then joined the Department of Public Health's Community Guidance Center where she fell in love with the idea of working to assist the youth and the community.
In her recovery, Tudela shared her motivations to move forward. She said she focused on what she can do and not what she can't do. That positive attitude helped her a lot and she makes sure she is surrounded by positive people as her support system.
Tudela was able to obtain a degree in behavioral science and is now working on her master's degree. She is now the director of a teen pregnancy prevention program of the Hawaii Youth Network.
Tudela told participants that “learning to become a better person is a long journey.and it should start now.”
In her welcoming remarks, Education Commissioner Rita A. Sablan, Ed.D., encouraged teens to continue to speak about issues affecting them. This year's summit focused on financial burden, confidence, public speaking, underage drinking, destructive behavior, dealing with relationships, social networking, teen pregnancy, sex effects, self-image, bullying, and youth mentoring.
Summit participants were students from Chacha Oceanview Junior High School, Hopwood Junior High School, Marianas High School, Kagman High School, and Saipan Southern High School.