A Dallas valedictorian is going viral after using her graduation speech to deliver an impassioned plea about abortion rights
Paxton Smith, the 2021 valedictorian of Lake Highlands High School in Dallas, Texas, is going viral for her graduation speech, with activists and politicians like Hillary Clinton cheering for her incredible surprise mic-drop moment at the podium.
The outgoing high school senior had submitted a pre-approved speech to school administrators prior to the ceremony on May 30, but she used the opportunity to speak out against the state’s newly-signed “heartbeat bill,” a law that bans abortions as early as six weeks after conception. Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed the bill on May 19, roughly a week and a half prior to her speech.
Smith began her speech much the same way any distinguished high school senior might, before quickly using the opportunity to protest the bill, one of many similar heartbeat bills that have been passed by states across the country in recent years. She began by noting that the bill does not allow for exceptions even in the case of rape or incest at six weeks (though does include exceptions for “medical emergencies”) — before many people even realize they are even pregnant, with Smith remarking, “before they have the time to decide if they are emotionally, physically, and financially stable enough to carry out a full-term pregnancy — before they have the chance to decide if they can take on the responsibility of bringing another human into the world — the decision has been made for them by a stranger. A decision that will affect the rest of their lives.”
“I have dreams, hopes, and ambitions. Every girl here does,” she continued. “We have spent our whole lives working towards our futures, and without our consent or input, our control over our futures has been stripped away from us… I hope you can feel how gut-wrenching it is, how dehumanizing it is, to have the autonomy over your own body taken from you.”
She ended by pleading with her audience to “not stay silent,” adding, “I refuse to give up this platform to promote complacency and peace, when there is a war on my body and a war on my rights. A war on the rights of your sisters, a war on the rights of your mothers, a war on the rights of your daughters.”
The bill was passed into law by the House and Senate before being signed by Abbott. It takes effect in Texas in September.
As for Smith, she told Advocate magazine, a local Lake Highlands publication, that she considered making the speech at a different venue, like a rally, but said, “a large part of the reason I made the speech at graduation was that was the only place I could think of where I could reach so many people from so many different backgrounds. It did cross my mind that this is a family event where people are cheering for their kids, but this is a universal topic, and it affects everyone. I felt it needed to be said.”
She didn’t think anyone outside the local community would see it and feels “overwhelmed” by the viral attention, calling it “exciting.” She said, “I was concerned the speech wouldn’t go over as I hoped” if her mic had been cut off, adding, “I thought it was worth taking the risk.”
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