You want to talk about bravery? This is a pretty good example.
Lake Highlands is a residential section of northeastern Dallas. The Lake Highlands high school valedictorian this year is a young woman named Paxton Smith. Like just about every high school valedictorian, Smith was tasked with writing a commencement speech to be delivered to her graduating class. So she wrote one about the role media plays in the development of young minds. And it was doubtlessly pretty good, receiving the stamp of approval from the school administration.
But it was not the one she delivered last weekend, in front of her teachers and classmates.
She couldn’t stop thinking about the “heartbeat bill” that Gov. Greg Abbott had signed into law last month. The law prohibits abortions as early as six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant, and it matters not if the pregnancy results from incest or rape. Abortion rights activists say it is the most restrictive law in the country. It will go into effect in September.
The more Smith thought about it, the more she was drawn to the conclusion that there was nothing more important that she could address with her time at the microphone.
After discussing the issue with her parents, she stepped up to the lectern with an alternative speech written and tucked away. And when the time came, that was the speech she gave. She knew she’d be nervous, so she practiced it over and over. She and other students had been warned that if they deviated from their prepared speeches, the microphone would be cut off. As you can see in the video, she was a bit nervous.
The full text of Smith’s speech:
As we leave high school we need to make our voices heard. Today, I was going to get up here and talk to you about TV and media and content because it’s something that is very important to me. However, in light of recent events, it feels wrong to talk about anything but what is currently affecting me and millions of other women in this state.
Recently the heartbeat bill was passed in Texas. Starting in September, there will be a ban on abortions that take place after six weeks of pregnancy, regardless of whether the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest. Six weeks. That’s all women get. Most don’t even realize that they’re pregnant by six weeks. And so, before they have a chance 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 being into the world, that decision is made for them by a stranger. A decision that will affect the rest of their lives is made by a stranger.
I have dreams, and hopes, and ambitions. Every girl graduating today does, and we have spent our entire lives working towards our future, and without our input and without our consent, our control over that future has been stripped away from us. I am terrified that if my contraceptives fail, I am terrified that if I’m raped, then my hopes and aspirations and dreams and efforts for my future will no longer matter. I hope that you can feel how gut-wrenching it is, I hope that you can feel how dehumanizing it is, to have the autonomy over your own body taken from you.
And I’m talking about this today, on a day as important as this, on a day honoring twelve years of hard academic work, on a day where we’re all brought together, on a day where you will be the most inclined to hear a voice like mine, a woman’s voice, to tell you that this is a problem. And it’s a problem that can’t wait. And I cannot give 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 mothers, a war on the rights of your sisters, a war on the rights of your daughters.
We cannot stay silent.
As you might expect, the school administration was a bit flustered. As reported by the Lake Highlands Advocate, officials stressed that Smith’s speech was not the one scheduled to be delivered, that it did not represent the endorsement or position of the district, and, they assured parents, in the future, they’d be reviewing their policies and protocols about valedictory speeches.
Meanwhile, Smith is headed to college, at University of Texas in Austin. According to the Advocate article, her parents couldn’t be prouder.
They’re not the only ones.