LAKE HIGHLANDS, Texas - Video of a Lake Highlands High School commencement speech is making the rounds on social media after the school's valedictorian took time during her speech to call out the "heartbeat bill" that recently passed in Texas.
First reported by D Magazine, Paxton Smith was the school's valedictorian for 2021 and she began her speech by thanking teacher Brody Lyons, who introduced her.
While doing that, she pulled out a piece of paper and spoke about something that she said is affecting her and "millions of other women in this state."
"OK, as we leave high school, we need to make our voices heard," Smith said during her speech.
She certainly made her voice heard.
The senior ditched the speech she submitted to educators for approval and talked about the recently passed law banning abortion at the detection of a fetal heartbeat.
Smith said she picked graduation to reach people who might not agree with her beliefs when it comes to abortion.
She said she was going to talk about another topic, but she refused to give up her "platform to promote complacency and peace, when there is a war on my body and a war on my rights" because of the recently passed heartbeat bill.
The recently passed bill bans abortions after as early as six weeks — before many women know they are pregnant — and let virtually any private citizen sue abortion providers and others.
"I have dreams, hopes, and ambitions. Every girl here does. 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," She said. "I am terrified that if my contraceptives fail me, that if I’m raped, then my hopes and efforts and dreams for myself will no longer be relevant. 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."
Smith's speech starts at the 4:30 mark in the video below:
The speech has gone viral, even catching the attention of former presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
FOX 4 spoke with Smith Wednesday.
She said she thought about not doing the speech at Sunday’s graduation.
"If you talk at a rally, who goes to rallies, people who already agree with you. If you want any change, you have to reach people who don’t care, and you need to reach people who flat out disagree with you," she said.
While she's gotten positive support, she knows there are some who don’t agree.
"There were only two individuals on Sunday who were not thrilled by what I said and vocalized it to me," she said. "It’s attention for what I said, its attention for the cause, in terms of staying grounded, I know it’s not about me."
Richardson ISD said they will review student speech protocols before next year’s graduation ceremonies.
The district also said the following statement appears as part of every RISD graduation program:
"The students who shall be speaking at the graduation ceremony were selected based on neutral criteria to deliver messages of the students’ own choices. The content of each student speaker’s message is the private, voluntary expression of the individual student and does not reflect the endorsement, sponsorship, position or expression of the District or its employees."
Here is the full text for Smith's speech:
As we leave high school we need to make our voices heard.
I was going to get up here and talk to you about TV and content and media because those are things that are 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 6 weeks of pregnancy, regardless of whether the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest. 6 weeks. Most women don’t even realize they’re pregnant by then. And so, 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. 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 am terrified that if my contraceptives fail me, that if I’m raped, then my hopes and efforts and dreams for myself will no longer be relevant. 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.
And I’m talking about this today, on a day as important as this, on a day honoring the students’ efforts in twelve years of schooling, 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. A problem that can’t wait.
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. We cannot stay silent.