Just like any other high school student, Caitlin Tiller of Trinity,
North Carolina was excited to take her official senior portrait in the
summer of 2012.
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That year, Wheatmore High School students were allowed to be photographed with a prop of their choice. Their only directions: "Bring something that represents you and helped you achieve something." For Tiller, then a 17-year-old junior, it was a no-brainer: She brought her 3-month old son, Leelin.
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"I picked my son because he's helped me be a better person," Tiller told Yahoo! Shine. "By having him, I grew up quickly but I learned how to be responsible."
Although Tiller didn't tell anyone that she was planning to bring Leelin, the photo shoot, which took place in the school cafeteria, went smoothly. "Lots of kids were there and the photographer thought Leelin was so cute. Everyone was asking to hold him," says Tiller.
An entire year went by and Tiller graduated in December, six months before her official graduation date on June 7, 2013, in order to enter Randolph Community College in January. Tiller, now 18, is currently studying to become a medical assistant.
On April 12, two days before the yearbooks went to press, Tiller received a call from the school's yearbook adviser. "She said I had to take a different photo because the one I took promoted teen pregnancy," said Tiller. "They called on my son's birthday so I said I wasn't available and besides, I choose Leelin because he represented what I've achieved in life. I said if Leelin can't be in the photo, then I won't be either. The adviser said, 'That's your choice. Then you won't be in the yearbook' and hung up on me."
Tiller's mom Karen called the principal at Wheatmore High School. "He told her that it was the yearbook adviser's decision, not his," says Tiller. So Karen called the school board. "They just told her no but didn't explain why," said Tiller. "Then my mom got mad and called the news station." On Wednesday, Tiller went public with her story on a local TV station.
In an email to Yahoo! Shine, Donald E. Andrews, the Superintendent of Randolph County Schools wrote: "The practice at Wheatmore High School regarding yearbook pictures for seniors has been to include only graduating students in the senior section, and to permit family members and friends to be featured with our seniors in the ad section of the yearbook. We offered this option to Ms. Tiller. We regret that this practice was not made clearer to her earlier in the yearbook development process and we will do a better job going forward with explaining our yearbook practices.
Tiller, who works a part-time job at a local McDonald's to support Leelin with the help of his father, doesn't deny that her pregnancy is controversial. "It was weird to go to school as the only pregnant student and walk around campus with a big stomach," she says. "I see the school's point: That if other parents see the photo, they'll call and complain. But I'm proud of my decision to have Leelin. He's the best thing that's ever happened to me and I don't want other teens going through pregnancy to feel ashamed or alone."