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High School Valedictorian’s Powerful Speech Emphasizes That ‘We Cannot Stay Silent’ On Abortion Rights

High school graduation is an important rite of passage for young people and a powerful moment to reflect and take stock of all the things that got you through your teen years and into adulthood. For Lake Highlands high school valedictorian Paxton Smith, the moment of reflection led her to make the decision to throw out her original, school-approved speech and turn her attention toward an issue close to heart: Reproductive rights.

In the video of her speech (which has now been viewed hundreds and thousands of times by people around the world), Smith turned toward her community to talk about all the ways reproductive freedom and restrictions of it can forever change the lives of a person who gets pregnant. As many other advocates have said before her, she makes it clear that the ability to see a doctor and to receive safe, accessible reproductive healthcare (from abortion to birth control) can often be the difference between a young person getting to live their hopes and dreams or being left with very few options for their lives.

“I cannot give up this platform to promote complacency and peace, when there is a war on my body and a war on my rights,” Smith said in her now-viral speech.”I have dreams, and hopes and ambitions. Every girl graduating today does…And without our input and without our consent, our control over that future has been stripped away from us.”

 

While her original speech was supposed to talk about TV and media, Smith said that it felt “wrong to talk about anything but what is currently affecting me and millions of other women in the state.” As a Texas resident, she’s seen a number of state-level abortion restrictions passed (and challenged in the courts) in her lifetime — including one of the more recently passed (and deeply medically inaccurate) “Heartbeat” bills that would make abortions illegal at six weeks (long before most pregnant people can even know they are pregnant).

“We cannot stay silent,” she said. (And she is right! The culture of silence around abortion care and baseless anti-science restrictions does nothing but harm women and other people who can get pregnant.)

Following her speech spreading on social media, Smith said she’s received tons of support from people around the country. Although she told a local Dallas TV station that she thought her microphone “was going to get cut off a couple minutes in, but it didn’t.”

While her school district, Richardson Independent School District, said they would consider ways to prevent future speakers from changing gears from prepared remarks, Smith’s father, Russell Smith told local magazine Lake Highlands Advocate that he supported his daughter for speaking her mind.

In a statement released to local media, the Richardson Independent School District, which includes Lake Highlands, says that students choose their own messages to share at graduation. But noting that Smith’s speech was not approved and “not in the podium book” of remarks for the event, the district says it will look at ways to prevent similar switches from taking place in the future.

“It was something that she felt was important, and she had the nerve, determination and boldness to put herself out there and say her piece,” Smith said. “So few people demonstrate this level of maturity and poise, regardless of age.”

We agree — and hope Smith and her peers continue to speak their minds and challenge the culture of stigma and silence around reproductive rights for years to come.

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