This past weekend, a graduating high school senior used her valedictorian speech to stand up for her beliefs and for pregnant people everywhere. Paxton Smith, the valedictorian of Lake Highlands High School’s Class of 2021—she has a 104.93 average—told D magazine that she had had a valedictorian speech on the consumption of media approved by her school. But on graduation day, she surprised students, teachers, and parents alike when she used the podium to condemn Texas's attack on reproductive rights.
"I am terrified that if my contraceptives fail, I am terrified if I am raped, that my hopes and dreams and aspirations and efforts for my future will no longer matter," Smith says. "I hope that you can feel how gut wrenching that is. I hope that you can feel how dehumanizing it is to have the autonomy over your own body taken away from you."
Smith is referring to the many restrictive laws her state has passed to limit a pregnant person's ability to get an abortion. Texas has historically been a hostile state toward abortion, and some in government are only ramping up their efforts. Just last week, the state passed a "trigger ban" that would make abortion illegal in the state should Roe v. Wade, get overturned. Additionally, starting in September, the state will also enforce a "heartbeat bill," which bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy—well before most people even know they are pregnant.
At the conclusion of her speech, many in the crowd applaud Smith's bravery while some (noticeably, a few of whom appear to be teachers seated on the stage behind her) don't clap. But Smith doesn't need their applause. She's taking a stand against oppressive, unconstitutional restrictions that threaten a person's right to choose.
"I can not give up this platform to promote complacency and peace when there is a war on my body and a war on my rights," she says. "We cannot stay silent."
Listen to Smith's entire, powerful speech here:
Megan DiTrolio is the editor of features and special projects at Marie Claire, where she oversees all career coverage and writes and edits stories on women’s issues, politics, cultural trends, and more. In addition to editing feature stories, she programs Marie Claire’s annual Power Trip conference and Marie Claire’s Getting Down To Business Instagram Live franchise.
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