Paxton Smith initially planned to address media consumption in her high school valedictorian speech; but she secretly scrapped those plans to address an issue she believed was much more pressing: women’s reproductive rights.
Smith, who is part of the Lake Highlands High School Class of 2021, had reportedly submitted her original remarks to school administrators ahead of Sunday’s graduation. Though that media-focused speech received the green light, Smith said she felt a strong urge to use her platform to call attention to Texas’ “heartbeat bill”—one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the United States.
The legislation, which was Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law last month, will prohibit most abortions at around the six-week mark. If a Texas physician detects a fetal heartbeat, he/she is barred from performing an abortion unless a “medical emergency exists.” Doctors also won’t be allowed to make exceptions for instances of rape or incest.
Smith told D Magazine she had spoke to her three parents about switching her speech behind officials’ backs. Though one of them said they weren’t “thrilled” with the idea, they all agreed to keep their daughter’s plan a secret.
On graduation day, Smith approached the mic and began by thanking one of her coaches. She then pulled a piece of paper from her graduation grown and delivered a powerful speech she had spent hours and hours practicing.
“Under 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,” Smith told the crowd. “Starting in September, there will be a ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, regardless of whether the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. Six weeks. That’s all women get.”
Smith then highlighted the ways the anti-abortion bill could impact her and other women’s futures.
“I have dreams, and hopes, and ambitions. Every girl graduating today does,” she continued. “We have spent our whole lives working towards our futures, and without our input and without our consent, our control over our futures has been stripped away from us. I am terrified that if my contraceptives fail me, 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 you can feel how gut-wrenching it is. I hope you can feel how dehumanizing it is, to have the autonomy over your own body taken from you.”
Karen Clardy, the school board president for the Richardson Independent School District, told the Advocate officials are now taking steps to ensure this kind of situation doesn’t occur during future commencement ceremonies. She also said Smith’s decision was not supported by officials, and her remarks do not reflect the position or expression of the district or its employees.
Though her valedictorian speech may have ruffled some feathers, Smith suggested she didn’t regret speaking her mind.
“It feels great. It also feels a little weird,” she told D Magazine. “Whenever I have opinions that can be considered political or controversial, I keep them to myself because I don’t like to gain attention for that kind of stuff. But I’m glad that I could do something, and I’m glad that it’s getting attention. It just feels weird for me personally, that I’m linked to the attention that the speech got.”
You can watch Smith’s full speech above.