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Diapers, a Diploma and Dreams

June 22, 1989|JAMES M. GOMEZ | Times Staff Writer

The crisply pressed, satin-white gown and mortarboard, with the blue and gold Class of '89 tassel already attached, hung conspicuously in one corner of Gladys Cabibbo's family room last week.

But the 18-year-old Montebello High School honors student, who will collect her diploma with about 500 other graduates tonight, was far too busy changing her daughter's diaper and chasing after her young son to make much ado about what many consider to be one of life's high points.

"I don't know, I guess I am ready for it (graduation)," Cabibbo said nonchalantly as she held month-old Portia over her shoulder and patted her baby's back gently. She is already looking ahead to September, when she will begin studying to be an accountant, on a full scholarship, at a local college.

After almost two years of balancing class work with the challenges that go along with being a young parent, Cabibbo has beat the heavy odds against staying in school. And she did it with honors.

Scholarship Worth $19,000

Earning a 3.57 grade-point average in her senior year, Cabibbo has accepted a full scholarship, valued at $19,000, to the DeVry Institute of Technology. She was accepted at Cal State Los Angeles, but passed it up to attend DeVry, where she plans to earn a bachelor of science degree in three years.

"It's better for me," said Cabibbo of the Illinois-based institute's various academic programs for non-traditional students. "It gives me time to work and time to take care of the kids."

Cabibbo is one of three students awarded full scholarships this school year at DeVry's City of Industry campus. She competed against nearly 750 high school students who applied for the scholarships, which are awarded yearly by a panel of local high school principals, counselors and administrators of the technical institute.

Of the 20 young mothers and mothers-to-be graduating this year from the Montebello Unified School District's Pregnant Minor Program, only Cabibbo and one other woman plan to go on to a four-year college, said director Mary Lou Williams. The program, part of the district's alternative education department, is based at Montebello High.

About 90 girls a year enroll in the four-year-old Pregnant Minor Program, which was established by the district to combat a trend by pregnant teen-agers to drop out of school, school officials said.

Last year, more than 18,000 school-age girls in the county became pregnant, and an estimated 80% of those did not finish high school, Williams said. The Pregnant Minor Program provides the students with a flexible learning environment while they prepare to become mothers.

However, Williams admits, almost one-third of those enrolled in the Pregnant Minor Program eventually drop out if they are not close to graduating when they have their babies.

Cabibbo, who had her first child when she was entering her junior year, said she remained in school because of the support of her family and the program's teachers and administrators, and a longtime desire to go to college.

Cabibbo's academic accomplishment, however, came amid financial and personal troubles that began in the months after the evening in 1986 that she met Tommy Cabibbo, now her husband. Gladys Alberto, then 15, and a few of her Catholic high school friends decided to try to get into a popular Los Angeles rock 'n' roll nightclub.

They were admitted to the 18-and-over club, she said. "I was with my friends, and (Tommy) was with his," she recalled. "He was cute, so we started dancing."

She ended up hitching a ride home to Montebello with Tommy, who was 18 at the time and had recently graduated from Montebello High. "I didn't know him before," she said recently. "But he only lived down the street."

Gladys soon became pregnant, married Tommy and left St. Paul's Catholic High School at the end of her sophomore year, she said. Her father, Cleo Alberto, who had objected to his daughter's marriage, accompanied her when she enrolled in the Pregnant Minor Program. "He was really understanding," Williams said.

Dari Alberto, Cabibbo's mother, said that her daughter's unexpected pregnancy and marriage devastated her. "I didn't know what to do," she said. "I only wanted her to finish school, no matter what."

During her pregnancy with Tommy Jr., Cabibbo's father suffered a massive stroke and fell into a coma. He revived and returned home in time to see his grandson, now 16 months old, Dari Alberto said. Cleo Alberto died two months later.

Gladys and Tommy then decided to have a second child. Gladys finished her class work in April, and Portia was born about a month ago.

Evicted From Apartment

The young couple attempted to "go it alone" until they were evicted from their apartment recently for non-payment of rent. Tommy lives with his parents and works with his uncle in construction, while Gladys lives with her mother and two younger sisters. "It's not like we had a fight or anything like that," Gladys Cabibbo said about the separation. "We couldn't afford it."

Cabibbo said she and her husband have agreed to live apart until she settles into the college routine and he earns more money.

Not all of the past two years, however, has been traumatic, Cabibbo said. She laughs when she remembers the time she had to rewrite an assignment that had taken hours to complete.

"I caught him (Tommy Jr.) eating my papers," Cabibbo said. "He always used to write on them, too."

Cabibbo said that she enjoyed high school and never considered dropping out. "I always wanted to go to college. I was always interested in math and I wanted to make a career out of (that interest)".

When asked if her husband is supportive of her college plans and ambition to become an accountant, she said, "Sure. He told me that he wants me to grow up to be a rich CPA (certified public accountant) for a big company so he can stay home and cook for me."

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