Maddi Runkles, the 18-year-old senior barred from graduating at her Christian high school because she is pregnant out of wedlock, celebrated her graduation in a private ceremony hosted by a local church.
Runkles' graduation ceremony was attended by more than 100 family, friends, and supporters including Students for Life President Kristan Hawkins, who presented the teen with a $16,000 college scholarship and nearly 7,000 messages of support from people in more than a dozen countries.
"We are so proud of Maddie for not only her courage to make a good decision in difficult circumstances, but to be an example to other students in similar situations and challenge Christian schools on their policies towards pregnant students like herself," Hawkins said. "I have no doubt that hearts and minds will be changed because of Maddi's courage and willingness to share her story."
As earlier reported, Runkles was barred from attending Heritage Academy's official graduation ceremony because the school, located in Hagerstown, Maryland, is "holding her accountable for her immorality."
"Maddi is being disciplined, not because she's pregnant, but because she was immoral," Hobbs said in a statement posted on the school's website, explaining that students at the school sign a scripturally based pledge that states they will protect their bodies "by abstaining from sexual immorality and from the use of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs."
However, Runkles told Breitbart News that said that while other students at Heritage Academy have broken some of the other rules of the pledge, "They've never suffered a punishment as severe as mine."
"I decided I wanted to confess what I did and ask for forgiveness from my school, but the other kids who had broken other rules - even when they were caught - they still lied about what they had done. It just seems unfair. I tried to make it right, but was still shot down."
The teen admitted to considering abortion for a time, as a result of her fear: "It was very stressful because I knew immediately that there were going to be issues at school," Runkles she said. "I've grown up in church and Christian school my whole life, so I knew that getting pregnant at 18 wasn't going to be looked upon very highly."
She added, "I did think about abortion for awhile because I was so afraid of what I was going to face, because I was just afraid of what everyone was going to think of me and the family that I come from. It was just going to hurt my reputation and everything. It was hard to choose life, it wasn't an easy decision, but I know it was the right decision."
Runkles' parents and about 25 classmates and other parents appealed to the school, asking that she be permitted to graduate with her classmates. After a brief suspension, Runkles was told she could return to school to complete her classes but they would still prohibit her from graduating with her class.
Nevertheless, the teen told the New York Times that the mistreatment she experienced since publicizing her situation forced her parents to homeschool her for the rest of the year.
"Many of the people in my town and at my school who had supported me and my family have turned on us since I went public, feeling that all the scrutiny was hurting Heritage Academy's reputation," she said.
"We started getting nasty emails, angry posts on social media and rude remarks in person. People who had been supportive before are now telling me to shut up, suck it up and grow up. Because of the volume of anger from the community, my parents have decided to keep my brother and me at home for the rest of the school year."
Runkles is expecting a boy, whom she plans to name Greyson, and plans to continue her studies at a Christian university.
"If you would have asked me a few months ago, if I thought my daughter would be in this position today, I would have said, 'No way'," Maddie's father, Scott Runkles, said at the special graduation ceremony, the Herald-Mail reported.
"I think God and his grace and his mercy, is simply telling us, 'I've got a different plan for Maddi, I've got something bigger for her'," he added.