Paxton Smith is the valedictorian of her graduating class at Lake Highlands High School in Dallas. When it came time to address her fellow students at graduation, Smith took the opportunity to speak out about the state’s abortion ban that was signed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in May. The legislation requires abortion providers to check for a fetal heartbeat and effectively bans abortion after six weeks. The law is expected to go into effect in September.
The speech Smith submitted to the school for approval was about media consumption. She spoke to her parents about her decision to speak about the abortion ban instead ahead of the commencement ceremony. Now, her speech is going viral.
“As we leave high school, we need to make our voices heard,” she began her address. “Today 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, under 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.”
She went on to describe the bill, which does not include exceptions for rape or incest, and said that many women do not yet know they’re pregnant at the six-week mark.
“I have dreams, hopes and ambitions,” she said. “Every girl graduating today does. And we have spent our entire lives working toward our future, and without our input, and without our consent, our control over our future has been stripped away from us. I am terrified that if my contraceptives fail, I am terrified that if I’m 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 it is. I hope you can feel how dehumanizing it is, to have the autonomy over your own body taken from you.”
You can watch the entirety of her address in the YouTube video below. Her remarks begin around the 4:30 mark:
“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.”
The video of Smith’s speech was circulated widely on social media, with many people commending Smith for her bravery in speaking out about an important issue about which she is passionate.
“I was a little bit nervous that the microphone would be cut off,” Paxton Smith told Dallas’ CBS 11 of her decision to go rogue. “They are supposed to cut off your microphone if you go off-script, and I went way off script.”
While not everyone agreed with her message, Smith is proud that she used her platform to talk about this important issue.
“It feels great,” she told D Magazine of the attention her speech has received. “Whenever I have opinions that can be considered political or controversial, I keep them to myself because I don’t like to gain attention for that kind of stuff. But I’m glad that I could do something, and I’m glad it’s getting attention. It just feels weird for me personally, that I’m linked to the attention that the speech got.”