A Dallas high school valedictorian scrapped a speech approved by her school administrators and delivered an abortion rights call in its place.
Paxton Smith, the 2021 valedictorian at Lake Highlands High School, submitted to school officials an address on the effect of the media on young minds. But when she spoke at Sunday's graduation ceremony, she talked of the theft of her rights and those of her classmates by the "heartbeat bill" signed into law by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott a week and a half before.
The role would come with attention and pressure, particularly when it came to her commencement speech.
“I definitely got a lot of pressure going in,” Smith said.
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"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. 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," she told her class.
The new law outlaws, without exception, any abortion after a first heartbeat can be detected. That could come as early as six weeks after conception when many women could be unaware that they are pregnant.
“It feels wrong to talk about anything but what is currently affecting me and millions of other women in this state,” Smith said.
Smith says she decided to secretly switch the speech about two weeks before graduation, around the time the bill was signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott.
The law also would allow anyone to sue a Texas abortion provider or anyone who helped someone get an abortion for as much as $10,000.
“I thought it was going to be a big faceplant. I expected them to cut the mic before I finished the speech,” Smith said.
That didn't happen.
Video of her speech has since been viewed online millions of times.
Smith says the feedback has been all positive. She says she felt it was important to use graduation to send her message.
"I have dreams and hopes and ambition. Every girl graduating today does. 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 am 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 that is, I hope t hat you can feel how dehumanizing it is, to have the autonomy over your own body taken from you," she said.
Video of her address was posted on social media and retweeted broadly. Comedian Sarah Silverman tweeted that the speech was "brave." Former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton tweeted: "This took guts. Thank you for not staying silent, Paxton."
Courage, guts and brave are some of the words used by people online to describe what Smith did and what she said.
“It was worth it, 100%,” Smith said.
The Richardson Independent School District, of which Lake Highlands is part, said district will review student speech protocols before next year's graduation ceremonies.
"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," it said in a statement.