Paxton Smith had over a year to prepare her valedictorian speech, but when the moment came, there was only one topic she wanted to discuss: abortion rights. The Texas teen has gone viral for her empowering speech that condemned Gov. Greg Abbott and the "heartbeat bill" that was passed in May banning abortions as early as six weeks — in other words, before many people know they are even pregnant. Smith initially planned to talk about media consumption in a pre-approved speech, but when she pulled a piece of paper out from her gown, the graduating class at Lake Highlands High School got something entirely different.
"I have dreams, hopes, and ambitions. Every girl graduating today does. We have spent our entire lives working towards our futures, and without our input and 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 you can feel how gut-wrenching that is, how dehumanizing it is to have the autonomy over your own body taken away from you," Smith said with passion.
The Texas abortion ban is one of the most extreme bans in the country and makes no exceptions for rape or incest. During a time that is so important for these graduates' futures, Smith knew that this topic was equally as important. She added, "On a day where we're all gathered together, on a day where you are most inclined to listen to a voice like mine, a woman's voice, to tell you that this is a problem. A problem that cannot wait."
"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. "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."
"There is a war on my body and a war on my rights."
It was just a 3-minute speech, but Smith felt it was the perfect opportunity to address this group of people. "I thought about making the speech at a different venue, like a rally where people wouldn't be upset at what I had to say," she told Lake Highlands Advocate Magazine. "But a large part of the reason I made the speech at graduation was that was the only place I could think of where I could reach so many people from so many different backgrounds. It did cross my mind that this is a family event where people are cheering for their kids, but this is a universal topic, and it affects everyone. I felt it need to be said." Watch the speech above and see why it's no surprise Smith is being applauded by her peers and by thousands of people across the internet.