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WHS senior endures challenges on path to graduation

WORTHINGTON -- The typical high school student spends senior year finalizing college plans, finishing required class credits and coasting through spring fever toward graduation.

Few high school seniors, however, can be classified as typical.

Some work multiple jobs, some keep just as busy in sports and extra-curriculars, and some -- like Elizabeth Flores -- do the best they can to earn their high school diploma while caring for a child.

Flores is one of approximately 175 students from Worthington High School who will walk across the platform Friday night to accept the coveted diploma. On hand to watch the ceremony will be her mother, her younger brother, her husband and her son.

When asked how she feels about graduation, Flores answered with excitement when she said it will be "a relief."

Flores gave birth to her son, Oziel Briones, just weeks before the end of her junior year of high school in 2005. Taking care of him and completing her course work to graduate has been -- to say the least -- a struggle.

"It's been so hard," she said. "I had my son, and he's sick with asthma. He's been in the hospital twice this year and has to have around the clock medicines.

"It's been more tiring because it's not the normal role a high school student should have."

Thanks to family and friends, Flores is one of the success stories -- a teen who has persevered to reach her goal.

Education, she said, is very important. That was a lesson her mother taught her.

Flores said before she became pregnant, she hadn't been taking high school as seriously as she does now. When she learned she was having a baby, the offer to attend Worthington's Area Learning Center was extended to her, but she wanted nothing of the sort.

"It's not that ALC is bad or anything," Flores said. "I wanted the high school challenge."

So throughout her junior year, as her belly began to grow, Flores trudged on in the classroom. Little did she know her decision to do so would serve as encouragement for other teens who found themselves in the same predicament.

"(I proved) to others that having a child doesn't mean you're a rebel, you hate everyone or you have a dysfunctional home," she said. "I myself had those stereotypes of girls who have been pregnant."

With a husband -- she married Eric Contreras close to a month before their son was born -- Flores realizes that unexpected events happen, and she has to deal with those events.

For Flores, the outcome was a beautiful baby boy -- a child who, despite his needs, has brought her a renewed outlook on the future.

"I didn't have goals before (Oziel) was born," she said. "After I had my son, that made me wake up and prioritize more -- to see that education was what I really needed."

Flores will attend Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Worthington this fall. She plans to transfer after two years to Minnesota State University, Mankato, to earn a degree in business marketing.

Without her husband's support, Flores said it would have been hard for her to complete her education.

"He has to sacrifice for me to go to school," she said. "I could be working, too, and supporting the household."

Flores said that by earning a degree and going on to college, she hopes to set a good example for her son.

"I would like him to major in anything he likes the best -- and it's not just about high school," she said. "High school is a ticket for other, better and bigger things to come."

Flores completed all 13 years of her education in District 518. She attended kindergarten through third grade at Central Elementary, fourth through sixth grade at West Elementary and seventh and eighth grade at Worthington Area Junior High School. Her class was the first to attend Worthington Senior High School as freshmen.

Throughout her schooling, Flores said she has had many good teachers, and a few have become her favorites. Overall, her education in District 518 was positive.

"You just feel, when you come out of this high school, that you're pretty well-rounded," she said. "They (teachers) don't make it easy for you and that makes graduation even more satisfying."

Flores and her classmates will graduate from WHS in a 7 p.m. ceremony Friday in the high school gymnasium.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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