They weren't the most conventional group of college scholarship recipients.
Many came onstage to collect their awards with babies in their arms or toddlers clinging to their knees.
I had to strain to hear their remarks at the Beverly Hills Country Club over the din of their jabbering children.
And every time one of the young mothers offered some variation of, "I want to thank my baby for giving me the motivation to succeed," I found myself wondering: What gives?
Are scholarships for college students with kids just one more way -- like "Juno," Jamie Lynn Spears and the supposed pregnancy pact among Gloucester, Mass. teens -- of glorifying teen pregnancy?
Their stories make me admire their grit:
Merisabel Velasco came here from Mexico at 14. She learned English well enough to enroll in AP classes at Sylmar High and graduated with honors. Then she had a baby. Now, thanks to a scholarship from El Nido Family Centers, she'll enroll this fall at Mission College.
Wendy Salazar juggled a job, classes at Fremont High and caring for her handicapped child. El Nido is helping her attend Cal State Long Beach in the fall.
Jennifer Madrigal is a mother of two daughters and a student at El Camino College. She used her El Nido grant to buy a laptop, "because I've got essays due every week in my English classes."
El Nido, whose name means "the nest" in Spanish, has given 189 scholarships over the last 16 years, and almost all of them have gone to teenage parents.
It's not a "social commentary," said director Liz Herrera. "We're not trying to make a point."
It's just that the 83-year-old organization, which began in 1925 as a Laurel Canyon camp for "underprivileged and pre-tubercular girls," has evolved into the state's largest provider of services to pregnant and parenting teenagers.
Still, the parade of young mothers -- and one father -- surprised scholarship donor Helen Wolff. Fifteen years ago, the Beverly Hills psychiatrist established the Payson Wolff Memorial Scholarships at El Nido in honor of her late husband, an El Nido board member.
"It looks like every one of them has a baby," she whispered to me at the luncheon. She shrugged when I asked if she was bothered by that.
"What I want is that they should get something out of this college thing; move ahead in life," she said. "I'm pleased to have the scholarship girls go on to something more than just pushing a baby stroller."
Wolff is a success story from another era. She entered medical school at Stanford in 1947, in a class that allowed "three women, three Catholics, three Jews," she said. When she graduated, she couldn't find a job because hospitals "worried I might get pregnant."
At 87, she has a few years on me. But even I can remember when girls who got pregnant were shunned -- hustled off to special schools or sent on months-long visits to faraway grandmas.
Now there are child care centers on high school campuses and baby showers with dancing to hip-hop music. The stigma seems to have faded. And, after falling for 15 years, pregnancy rates have begun creeping up. I wonder if there is a link.
Sixty percent of pregnant girls in the U.S. drop out of high school. The problem is especially acute among some young Latinas, who tend to see motherhood as a badge of honor.
"A lot of these girls have no role models for going on and having a career," said Herrera, the El Nido director. "So there's really nothing lost by parenting."
A national survey by Child Trends, a social science research group, found that Latinas are less likely than other teens to consider pregnancy a problem. In fact, one in four teenage Latinas said they would be pleased if they got pregnant, according to the group's research.
Herrera remembers counseling an ethnically mixed group of sexually active teens at Taft High in Woodland Hills years ago: "The girls who had professional parents as role models said they were going on to college. The idea of not being on contraception was crazy to them.
"But to the Latino girls, if you use contraception, that means you're promiscuous. So they take their chances," Herrera said. "We've got to change that attitude, show them how hard it is being a teen mother. But at the same time, remove some of the obstacles so they feel like they can move forward."
Financially, the $1,000 El Nido scholarships aren't much. "They can get their fees paid, buy their books, pay for child care," Herrera said. "We get them squared away that first year, give them a real chance to stay in college."
To some, the money matters less than the message it sends.
"It's the support," said Xiomara Pena, an 18-year-old whose sponsor at Chatsworth High called her "one of the hardest workers I have seen in my teaching career."
She's attending Pierce College this summer and plans to transfer to UCLA.
"It gives them confidence to see that people will invest in them," said Herrera. "That's transforming for most of them."
And I can't help noticing how well these young mothers navigated the festivities -- patiently bouncing fussy babies, walking the hall with restless toddlers, proudly toting children considered "mistakes" on stage with them to be applauded.
For them, motherhood is not an excuse for giving up, but a reason to move forward.