Who is Paxton Smith? Dallas valedictorian goes rogue to give protest speech against anti-abortion law
A Texas high school valedictorian switched out her approved graduation speech script to protest against the newly-signed state law banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. The young girl, identified as Paxton Smith, called the law "dehumanizing." She had allegedly submitted an entirely different speech to school officials for the commencement ceremony at the Dallas high school. She went off script because she felt she should use her "platform" to raise her voice against the "war on her body."
The school's officials have since said in a statement that nothing of what Smith spoke about in her valedictorian's address was submitted as part of her original speech. Although it's not unusual for school officials to intervene when a student goes off the script from an approved speech, Smith was allowed to finish hers without interruption. She took the podium after the controversial abortion law was signed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott just last month.
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In the wake of the controversy she has caused surrounding future student speeches in the school district, Smith also earned a Twitter nod from former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who posted "This took guts. Thank you for not staying silent, Paxton."
This took guts. Thank you for not staying silent, Paxton. https://t.co/DlwEgmMRGN— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) June 2, 2021
Who is Paxton Smith?
The high school valedictorian with 104.93 average was supposed to give a school-approved speech for the commencement ceremony at the Lake Highlands High School in Dallas, on Sunday, May 30. Smith, who is graduating, can't be any older than 18. She had initially submitted a speech on the impact media has on young girls in today's society, which was approved for the ceremony. But as she went up on stage on Sunday, May 30, Smith completely switched the script of her speech and went on an impromptu protest speech that lasted a few minutes where she slammed the newly-signed "Heartbeat Bill" and has since received an overwhelmingly positive response for what she said.
“I refuse to give up this platform... when there is a war on my body and a war on my rights,” Smith said in her speech, soon describing the legislation as "a war on the rights of your mothers, a war on the rights of your sisters, a war on the rights of your daughters." Speaking to her graduating class of 2021, Smith said "We cannot stay silent." And although she wasn't silenced during the course of her address, the Richardson Independent School District is reportedly in the midst of reevaluating the set of protocols for future student speeches.
“Everything that was supposed to be said during graduation was included in a notebook on the podium,” Karen Clardy, RISD school board president, told local outlet Lake Highlands Advocate. “The speech that was delivered was not the one that was submitted, and it was not in the podium book. This student chose to instead use an alternate speech that had not been submitted or approved in advance.”
The controversial new law that Smith criticized in her speech prevents Texas citizens from getting an abortion if the heartbeat of the fetus is detectable, which can take place “as early as six weeks gestation — or six weeks from a woman’s last menstrual period.” Set to go into effect from this year September 1, the legislation would also allow private citizens to sue individuals as well as people providing abortions for violating the ban.
Smith, like many others, criticized the law saying the limited time impacts women’s decision-making process. "Before they have a chance to decide if they are emotionally, physically and financially stable enough to carry out a full-term pregnancy, before they have the chance to decide if they can take on the responsibility of bringing another human being into the world, that decision is made for them by a stranger,” Smith said, as seen in a video of the speech published by Dallas TV station WFAA. “I have dreams, hopes and ambitions,” Smith added, concluding: “Every girl here does. We have spent our whole lives working toward our futures, and without our consent or input, our control over our futures has been stripped away from us.”
Read her full speech here. Click here to full the full video.