Superior Court Associate Judge Teresa K. Kim-Tenorio took a different approach in her judicial address on Friday by telling her life story as a teen mother in a bid to inspire young moms to persevere and strive for success.
Instead of focusing on judicial issues that newly sworn judges normally do at their investiture, Kim-Tenorio addressed teenage mothers who feel “they have hit a dead end in the path of life.”
“There is no ‘right’ path or just ‘one’ road to success. There are many paths that only require one thing: determination,” said Kim-Tenorio in her emotional remarks during the judicial investiture ceremony held in the CNMI Supreme Court.
She pointed out that there is a path to becoming a judge, which includes completing high school, going to college, going to law school, taking the bar exam, being a lawyer, and so on.
Kim-Tenorio said that before she did all of that, she got pregnant at the age of 17 and became a teenage mother.
“You can imagine what my Asian parents thought, that it was the end of the world. You know what I’m talking about. Others did too. Life was over; I guess that was the message,” she said.
She recalled that her parents waited for her son to be born, then told her to leave the island, see the world, and get a college education.
“But clearly, it wasn’t that simple. There was now an infant that was part of the equation,” Kim-Tenorio said, adding that along with lots of guts, fear, and prayer, she left for college with her son.
She said she left and felt as though she cried for the next four years.
“I cried every time I dropped my son off to day care, because he cried. I cried most nights when I had to stay up late to study because I had to feed my son first, bathe him, and make sure he was in bed and perform all the other motherly duties before I had time to devote to school,” she said.
Kim-Tenorio remembered that she cried most because while she was doing this, other college students were partying and truly experiencing the college life.
The judge said she cried four years later when she received her bachelor’s degree, this time with tears of joy.
“I felt like life really did not end when I became a teenage mom. I felt stronger. I felt like I could conquer law school,” she said.
Kim-Tenorio said she is truly blessed to have parents who never gave up on her as she certainly tested their love and patience.
“So my message to teenage mothers out there is when you take a wrong turn in life, don’t think you must continue on that path. Even worse, don’t think you are stuck on that path,” she added.
Kim-Tenorio thanked her children and her husband, Perry John Tenorio, for supporting her.
As she was concluding her speech, Kim-Tenorio was overcome with emotion as she expressed her wish that her two older sons, Air Force airman Justis Tenorio and Army specialist Sunho Tenorio, were there to attend the ceremony.
“But as I protect the Constitution in my judicial capacity, they are defending it in the most honorable way, by protecting your lives and mine and fighting for our freedom. Thank you both and all our service men and women for your service,” said Kim-Tenorio.
Many guests, including U.S. District Court of Guam Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood, were seen wiping their tears.
Kim-Tenorio’s speech was received with thunderous applause by judges, justices, court staff and guests that filled the courtroom and the lobby.
In the first part of her address, Kim-Tenorio thanked Gov. Eloys Inos, whom she called “a true mentor and a great leader to follow” for nominating her to serve on the bench. She also expressed appreciation for the support given her by the Senate, the CNMI Bar Association, judges, and justices.
Inos administered the oath of office.
In his remarks, Inos said that, in nominating Kim-Tenorio, he was caught in a bittersweet situation as she was his legal counsel since he became lieutenant governor in 2009 and in his current capacity as governor.
Nonetheless, Inos said he is proud to have nominated her because along with her educational credentials, she has gained experience in private practice, and as counsel in the legislative and executive branches.
“Today, she comes full circle on this journey with the judicial branch. And while my office lost a tremendous asset, I take comfort knowing she will be an asset to the greater Commonwealth,” the governor said.
In his welcome remarks, CNMI Supreme Court Chief Justice Alexandro C. Castro said Kim-Tenorio’s ascension to the bench completes the fifth judge position left vacant by associate judge and now Associate Justice Perry Inos 10 months ago.
“Teresa’s ascension to the bench underscores our leaders’ acknowledgment of the fact that women can also be part of the leadership in our government,” said Castro, citing that Kim-Tenorio is the third female jurist to be sworn in since the CNMI decided to become a U.S. Commonwealth.
In his closing remarks, Superior Court Presiding Judge Robert C. Naraja said the Judiciary is behind Kim-Tenorio in ensuring that she has all the necessary tools at her disposal.
“As a team, we will all continue to do as we always have done…ensure that justice prevails and the rule of law is upheld,” Naraja said. “Your Honor, never forget the importance of neutrality and always remember to remain calm and civil at all times on the bench.”
At the ceremony, former first lady Sophia P. Tenorio and Kim-Tenorio’s mother, Jin Soon Kim, were tasked with the investiture of the judicial robe. Former governor Pedro P. Tenorio and Kim-Tenorio’s father, Yong Chan Kim, presented the gavel. Perry John P. Tenorio and children Pedro and Sunjoon presented the family Bible.
Members of the Marianas High School’s Rhythm and Harmony Glee Club received loud applause with their musical selection.
Among the guests were Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan, U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona, current and former CNMI judges and justice, mayors, lawmakers, Cabinet members, District Court of Guam Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood, Unified Court of Guam Presiding Judge Alberto C. Lamorena III, Unified Courts of Guam Associate Judge Arthur R. Barcinas, and Circuit Judge Helen Shores Lee of the 10th Judicial Circuit of Alabama.