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Tatyanna Paige had to grow up fast when she gave birth to a baby girl at the beginning of her senior year at Grasso Tech.
It wasn't easy, but with the support of her parents, Bruce and Sheila Page, she made it work.
Her daughter, McKenna, is now 8 months old. Paige, who lives in Groton, will graduate June 28 from the hospitality program at Ella T. Grasso Southeastern Technical High School.
During an interview at school last week, Paige pulled out her cellphone and displayed a picture of her daughter. The baby's father is not very involved, Paige said.
"I wanted to have a better future for me and her, so I had to do whatever I could in school to make that happen," she said.
Paige has kept her place on the honor roll, played award-winning tennis, sang in the chorus and worked a part-time job at the Octagon restaurant in the Mystic Marriott.
She also played softball, volleyball and did cheerleading, and did all of it well.
"Tatyanna Paige comes to mind immediately as a success story," said Christopher Jones, head of the hospitality program and senior class adviser, in an email. "She is a dedicated student, friend, daughter and mother. She takes all of her roles seriously and she always has a smile."
Her plans for the future are in flux. She is considering joining the military for the travel opportunities and tuition benefit. She said her parents are willing to care for McKenna while she is away. But she is also interested in pursuing a career in hospitality and perhaps even venturing into cosmetology.
Despite the complications she has endured, Paige seems, at school, like just another 18-year-old in a polo shirt and capri cargo pants - a bright-eyed young woman wearing neon lipstick and a short hairstyle that accentuates her natural beauty.
She and her close friend, Aryell Newell, love to laugh. Standing in a hallway at Grasso last week, they could hardly look at one another without giggling. Newell said she had worried the friendship would change when Paige had the baby and is relieved it has remained strong.
"She's very kind-hearted," Newell said of Paige. "There was one time I was going through something and crying. She told me everything was going to be OK. She actually stayed on the phone with me until I fell asleep."
Paige puts on a good front, but prompted by her father during a lengthy phone interview recently, she admitted she had thoughts of suicide earlier this year and tried cutting her wrists.
"I was looking at my friends going out having fun," she said. "I was sitting here every day coming home to my daughter. I was regretting a lot of stuff. It got me to the point where I didn't want to be here anymore. I just wanted to kill myself."
She hid her feelings from her family until they attended a church service in Norwalk where her aunt was being ordained as a minister.
"There was a guest pastor who started talking about things girls go through," Paige said.
Paige started crying, and a group of older women rushed to her aid. They told her to go to the front of the church, where the pastor put her hands on Paige and ordered her to praise God. Paige said she disobeyed at first, then started doing as she was told. She had a breakthrough.
"I got so weak I fell to the ground," she said. "I remember her telling me, 'Don't go back to what you did.' She said, 'Get close to your church and talk to your pastor so you can have somebody help uplift you.'"
Bruce Paige said his daughter opened up to him on the way home.
"She told me, 'Dad, my crying spot was in the shower,'" Bruce Paige said. "I said, 'Why didn't you tell me?' She said, 'I didn't want you to worry.' I said, 'Next time, learn not to conversate with yourself. Learn to conversate with God. Think about other teenage girls going through what you're going through.'"
Paige has been working with a counselor and has also had support from her pastor, Sharon Burns, at the New Life Christian Church in Ledyard.
The father said his first reaction upon learning his oldest of three children was pregnant was that she was sabotaging her own future. Upset, he got into his car and drove away from the family home.
"Then I said to myself, 'Go back home and hug your daughter,'" Bruce Paige recalled. "I called her from her room, kissed her on the forehead and said, 'Don't worry. We're going to get through this. We're going to help you through.'"
Both parents work, but they welcomed their grandchild into the home and consider her a blessing, the father said. He said he was proud of the way Tatyanna handled herself when McKenna was born with serious health problems. He was proud when she agreed to go to Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School in New London to share her story with younger students. And he was proud again when he went to the tennis banquet where his daughter was recognized as the top third female tennis player in the state school system. She had played even when she was seven months pregnant.
"She's definitely doing her thing as a single mom," Bruce Paige said. "We want her to accomplish a lot."