Paxton Smith on her viral speech and what comes next in the fight for reproductive rights

After delivering a valedictory speech at the commencement of Lake Highlands High School in Dallas that went viral, Paxton Smith has been generating headlines around the world, and in the process exposing the extreme anti-abortion legislation that was passed in Texas. Now, the country’s most famous graduation speaker is reflecting how her speech has impacted the fight for reproductive rights, and how she’s planning her next steps.

As she took to the podium to deliver her speech, Smith stealthily switched her planned remarks. What came next was a poignant speech that captured the feelings of so many Texans in the aftermath of the latest legislative session when Gov. Abbott signed Senate Bill 8, which is essentially a six-week abortion ban.

Texas Signal spoke with the rising first year student at the University of Texas Austin about her speech, and how she plans to continue fighting for access to abortion. According to Smith, after she finished her speech, she was greeted by nothing but well-wishes from her fellow seniors at Lake Highlands High School.

“All of the people who came up to me after graduation loved the speech, and they were very happy about it. For other seniors across the state, they’ve been very supportive as well,” says Smith.

She also has some concrete advice for young people who are interested in getting involved in reproductive justice. For starters, Smith recommends contacting their local representative. Secondly, she would advise looking into working or volunteering with Planned Parenthood. And her third recommendation is perhaps both the easiest and hardest thing to do: start a conversation. For Smith, starting a dialogue is one of the best ways to facilitate change. “This topic should not be as taboo as it is.”

In the days following her graduation, Smith traveled to Austin to attend a rally for the youth opposed to anti-abortion bill SB 8, which was organized by a 12-year-old. That’s the exact type of action that Smith hopes to replicate throughout Texas and around the country as anti-choice legislation continues to pass. “It makes me excited that the younger generation is paying attention to it and using their voice to speak out about it,” says Smith.

Smith acknowledges that not everyone is going to have access to a megaphone or platform to the degree that she did at her high school graduation. And she also recognizes that not everyone is comfortable speaking in public. Yet for those who would like to make an impact she has a suggestion. “Find some local organizations that are around you that are passionate about [the same things you are] and see if you can get a volunteer gig or an internship with them because that’s how you’re going to make a difference if you’re not comfortable speaking up for others.”

As she prepares to start her first year at UT-Austin, Smith says she’s been in contact with some students at the school, though she’s trying to sort out her immediate plans. “All I can say at this point in time is that I do have plans to continue social activism, but I don’t know in what capacity yet.”

The 2021 valedictorian from Lake Highlands High School does have one final thing she’d like to encourage her fellow young people to do, and that’s to vote in state and local elections. “Those are the elections that are going to have the most immediate impact,” says Paxton.

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