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HIGH HOPES\ TEENS ASPIRE TOWARD JOBS AS PROFESSIONALS

HIGH HOPES\ TEENS ASPIRE TOWARD JOBS AS PROFESSIONALS

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These two legal eaglets wowed them at Guilford County's Moot Court competition.

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This is a story of two young women who ignore the expectations society sets for them because they realize that those expectations are far beneath them.

LaTonya Weeks, 19, wants to be a lawyer.Petite, auburn-haired and serious, Weeks is given to the self-conscious gestures that reveal her shyness: She crosses her arms over her chest and sometimes cups her face in her hands when talking to strangers.

Weeks needs a running start before she really gets comfortable talking in front of a crowd, but she loves talking about things that are important. She takes secret pride in her friends' suggestion that she needs a job that requires lots of talking, so she can make the best of her gift of gab.

``Once I get started talking about something I strongly believe in, watch out,' she said, laughter floating past lips framed in the red, red lipstick she favors. ``I really want to be a lawyer and then go on to become a judge. That's what I really want.'

Tenetta Griffin, 16, wants to be an engineer.

She's also serious but given to sudden bursts of laughter and impassioned speeches made even more so by the precise way she is speaking.

Long, naturally curly hair frames a face dominated by glasses with thick black frames and a scratch on the right lens. Griffin has a way with numbers and dreams of a career designing and manipulating computers.

``I want to do something with math - that is if 10th-grade math doesn't kill me,' she said, laughing. ``I just love computers, even though they can be very frustrating at times. But I think that math is my strong point.'

Together, these aspiring professional woman walked away with the top prize at the Guilford County Moot Court competition in March. The Young Lawyers Division - an offshoot of the Greensboro Law Association - sponsored the competition, which sets up mock trials much like those argued before the state's appellate court.

Weeks and Griffin argued a fictional school desegregation case that was similar to a Georgia lawsuit that was recently heard by the Supreme Court.

It was a complicated case that would give even trained lawyers pause: Had the fictional Pine Valley school system tried hard enough to ensure and end of segregation in its schools?

``It sounded fun, and it was,' Weeks said. ``But it was a lot of work, I won't say it wasn't.'

The two practiced two hours a night for 2 1/2 weeks, studied the court case in their spare time and borrowed a courtroom at the Guilford County courthouse to practice their delivery.

Their commitment impressed their coaches, Lisa Miles of the Public Defender's office and Tomi Bryan, a local attorney.

``I just admire them so much,' Bryan said. ``I thought I was doing them a service by coaching them, but by the end, I think I was really lucky to have a chance to work with these two ladies.'

Arguing their case at the Guilford County courthouse on March 6, Griffin and Weeks - one dressed conservatively in a suit of navy blue and the other in white - had a ball.

They both had a favorite line from their presentations: Griffin argued for the Georgia school system, Weeks for the parents suing the school system.

``It's against the law when the school board seeks to promote racism,' Griffin said. ``I just love saying that line.'

Weeks' didn't agree with the Georgia school system's position, but she liked the passage from her speech that argues the system isn't responsible for white flight: ``The defendant was not responsible for the private actions of those who voted with their feet.'

Their presentation scored high marks from the moot court judges.

``They were well-prepared and quite poised,' said ToNola Brown, a Greensboro lawyer who acted as a judge in the competition. ``The judges are told they are in high school, but they don't take it easy on the students.

``They had to be able to respond while they are constantly being interrupted by judges,' she said. ``What they were doing is very similar to what first-year students do in law school.'

Griffin and Miles hugged each other tightly when judges pronounced them winners over a team from Eastern Guilford High School. Then they congratulated the other team.

``I made sure that I let them know they were worthy opponents,' Griffin said. ``The lawyers who coached us said it was important to do that.'

That win advanced them to the regional moot court competition in Charlotte. There, they won the first round but were eliminated by a team that they admit deserved the win.

Back home, local lawyers and judges plied the two legal eaglets with praise during a reception at the Sheraton Hotel.

``I've never seen so many grins in all my life,' Griffin said, the remembrance coaxing a gleeful laugh from her throat. ``It was like they were meeting with high royalty.'

``They treated us so nice,' Weeks said.

So why have these two bright, ambitious young women learned to ignore other people's expectations? Griffin and Weeks are both poor, black, single, teenage mothers.

Both are students at Greensboro's Alternative Education Center, a combination middle and high school that caters to students in academic trouble because they've missed too many days of school, were disruptive in class or have behavior problems.

Weeks and Griffin both chose the alternative school because its day-care program and health clinic allows them to care for their children and go to school.

Griffin breast feeds, so she can't be too far away from her 14-month-old son. Weeks said she works better knowing her daughter is just a few steps away.

The young women don't want people to pity or judge them because they became mothers before they were old enough to vote.

Abortion wasn't an option for either, and they dearly love their children. Weeks' bouncing baby girl, Raven, turned 2 this week. Griffin's inquisitive, sandy-haired son, Jeromy, is 14 months old (as of May 15).

``I don't listen to what society says,' Weeks said. ``I'm the one who made the decision to lie down to have my daughter, and I'm going to be the one who, 10 or 15 years down the road, is going to be taking care of her.'

The shame, Griffin said, is on the people who look down on parenting teens.

``We're fortunate enough to be survivors,' Griffin said. ``Greensboro is asleep to the problems that parenting teens are going through.'

Their accomplishments and drive don't come in spite of their children, the two say. Those points of pride come because of them.

``I'm doing all this so that I can make a better life for my daughter,' Weeks said. ``I want her to look up to me as a good role model.'

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