Teenage rebellion is nothing new. People have been singing songs and telling stories and generally being very annoyed by those rowdy teens since long before you and I were born, and they'll be doing so long after we're gone from this Earth.
With that in mind, you'd think the administrators at Lake Highlands High School in Texas might have predicted that Paxton Smith, their most accomplished pupil, would use her last moments as a student there to raise a defiant middle finger to them, as well as to the state's appalling new anti-abortion law. Smith switched out her pre-approved valedictorian speech about the media for one about her hopes and fears as a young woman living in a state that's taken her own bodily autonomy away from her.
"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," Smith began. "However, in 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."
Over the following few minutes of her speech, Smith laid out both the emotional and the practical stakes of Texas's just-signed "heartbeat bill," which criminalizes abortions just six weeks into pregnancy. That's about two weeks after a person's first missed period.
"I have dreams, hopes, and ambitions. Every girl here does," she said. "We have spent our whole lives working towards our futures, and without our consent or input, our control over our futures has been stripped away from us. I am terrified that if my contraceptives fail me, that if I’m raped, then my hopes and efforts and dreams for myself will no longer be relevant."
"I’m talking about this today, on a day as important as this, on a day honoring the students’ efforts in 12 years of schooling, on a day where we’re all brought together, on a day where you will be the most inclined to hear a voice like mine, a woman's voice, to tell you that this is a problem. A problem that can't wait," she added later in her remarks. "I refuse to give up this platform to promote complacency and peace, when there is a war on my body and a war on my rights."
Smith's speech, which she told Mic took her about two days to write, has earned accolades from authors, activists, and politicians, including Hillary Clinton, who said simply that "this took guts."
Speaking with D Magazine, Smith said she previewed her speech with her three parents and noted that at least some administrators have threatened to withhold her diploma after she switched her remarks. So far, she said, they have not.
"It feels great. It also feels a little weird," she told the magazine. "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 that it’s getting attention."
Additional reporting by Alisha Sahay