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Mother graduates college 10 years after teenage pregnancy

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    DES MOINES, Iowa (KCCI) — When Danielle Yonemura was 14 and her daughter, Leilani, was born, she said she made a promise to give her a better life than she had. And that started with bettering herself first.

“Wow, I really need to get my stuff together because I’m about to be a mom,” Yonemura said, recalling that moment. “I need this child to grow up and have a good life, a better life than I did.”

It wasn’t easy for the high schooler, she said. At times, she found herself homeless but said she looked to her daughter for inspiration.

Yonemura graduated from North High School in Des Moines in 2013 in the top 10% of her class, went to Des Moines Area Community College where she earned her associate degree, and, next weekend, will graduate from the University of Iowa with a degree in nursing. She also has been nominated by her class to speak at the virtual commencement.

“I’m really proud of my mom. She’s worked so hard for this,” Leilani Gonzalez said. “The journey she’s been through just shows how strong she is and how proud I am of her.”

“I know what it has been like to have struggled and to have failed,” Yonemura said in a pre-recorded version of her commencement speech. “I’m thankful for those experiences because it made me stronger in the end.”

Many mothers might say it’s their job to provide for their children and build them a better life. Yonemura would tell you the same thing: It’s what she promised her daughter as she held her in her arms 10 years ago, and this Mother’s Day, she said she’ll know it was a promise kept.

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