You don't have to wait to change the world.
It appears graduating high school senior Paxton Smith knows that well: The class valedictorian didn't waste time or mince words when giving her commencement speech in Texas on Sunday. Instead of delivering a pre-approved speech on teen media use, D Magazine reported, she used her platform to decry a bill Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently signed that bans abortion in the state at six weeks, a time when most people don't know they're pregnant.
While her voice shakes at first in the video above, Smith gains confidence as she goes on. (The speech starts at the 4:30 mark.)
"Starting in September, there will be a ban on abortions that take place after six weeks of pregnancy, regardless of whether the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest. Six weeks. That's all women get," Smith said.
Then Smith made the ramifications of the law personal:
"I have dreams, and hopes, and ambitions. Every girl graduating today does," she said. "And 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."
At that point, the crowd broke out in cheers. Smith continued:
"I am terrified that if my contraceptives fail, I'm terrified that if I’m raped, then my hopes and efforts and dreams and efforts for my future will no longer matter. I hope you can feel how gut-wrenching that is, I hope you can feel how dehumanizing it is, to have the autonomy over your own body taken from away you."
She ended with a call to action:
"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."
Her address has reverberated far beyond the Dallas community where, as D Magazine reported, administrators threatened that her diploma could be withheld. On Twitter, it's been viewed more than 600,000 times and more than 210,000 times on TikTok, Vice reported.
“What the student did was unexpected and not supported by LHHS or RISD," RISD School Board President Karen Clardy told Advocate Magazine of Lake Highlands, a suburb northeast of Dallas where Smith went to school. "We are going to review student speech protocols in advance of next year’s graduations to prevent something like this from happening again.”