At a recent graduation ceremony in Lake Highlands High School in Dallas, Texas, valedictorian Paxton Smith decided to speak against a Texas law prohibiting abortion after a heartbeat is detected. Instead of expressing hope and delight in her bright prospects, she lamented, “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.”
D Magazine reported on the story, resulting in prominent leftists cheering Paxton for her ostensible bravery. Feminist writer Jessica Valenti, former Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis, Rep. Veronica Escobar, and the pro-abortion organization NARAL all endorsed Smith’s use of her graduation speech. The biggest name on the list of supporters was no less than Hillary Clinton, who tweeted, “That took guts.”
No, it didn’t take guts. Rather, to quote Clinton yet again, it took a village. It took a village of voices — from school, from the government, from mass media, from her peers — to compel an otherwise accomplished young woman to trample on her greatest moment to date with insipid abortion advocacy.
Three things stand out about Smith’s valedictorian speech: its inanity, its cowardice, and its selfishness. Instead of rolling their eyes at another young person taking up a leftist cause, conservatives should see it as a challenge to take on the culture in earnest.
To begin, it’s important to understand that Smith didn’t give an argument — she gave a narrative. What she said regarding limits on abortion isn’t based on reasoning and facts, but on assumptions and feelings. The new heartbeat bill makes her feel like her future and autonomy are threatened.
She won’t explain why she feels that way. If she did, it would become clear that her assumptions are wrong or exaggerated. She assumes a baby is not a person, pregnancy would ruin her future, being sexually active is a given, the new bill would prevent her from aborting her potential child, abortion at any time equates to individual freedom and prosperity, and her perspective is the only legitimate perspective on this matter.
With such assumptions, her feelings are irrelevant to the issue, clearly based on repeated slogans and shallow propaganda. They are not a reflection of reality, but of a media campaign meant to make pregnancy and motherhood look like the worst things to happen to a young woman.
Smith’s youth helps compensate for the weakness of her claims, as with all teenage activists. Like Greta Thunberg and David Hogg, Smith vents her fears and anxieties to a sympathetic public. In the past, a person’s youth would disqualify a person from serious discussion. Today, however, opinionated kids are given a seat at the table while mature and serious experts who hold non-leftist views are excluded.
So, because it’s a narrative delivered by a young person, no one can rebut Smith in any meaningful way. Smith likely understood this since she admitted, “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.”
This suggests she only chose to speak out when she knew was relatively safe from any repercussions or criticism since she has a captive audience specifically there to celebrate her and her peers. In any other situation, this calculation would be considered cowardly, not brave.
Despite not arguing in good faith and exploiting her platform to promote her agenda — most valedictorians typically use their platform to offer thanks and a few motivational platitudes — Smith will now enter college as a celebrity. She is now a feminist icon, less because of what she has done for women and more because she said something progressive feminists agree with.
As for the other graduates who volunteered for hundreds of hours and served their community in tangible ways, they will be forgotten along with the many other valedictorians who accepted their honors gracefully. Their hard work and good manners may have helped in building up their respective communities, but they will remain anonymous and unheard.
This outcome reaffirms a disturbing trend of society rewarding useless activism over useful action. While cities fall apart and the country becomes ever more dispirited and vulnerable, everyone will give their attention to the girl who worries that her ability to abort her potential unwanted child might become slightly less convenient.
So long as adults leave children to their own literal and figurative devices, young people will doubtlessly try to emulate Smith and use their achievements as occasions for putting out a “controversial” message. The allure of instant attention and fame will always triumph over the satisfaction of effecting actual reform.
Therefore, when writers and politicians not named Paul Ryan talk about “changing the culture,” this ultimately means plugging up those outlets of bogus narratives and replacing them with authentic relationships. Instead of kids learning their politics from TikTok, their economics from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortes, D-N.Y., and their morality from modern Disney films, they should learn these things from their parents, churches, and teachers. Reality needs to take the place of virtual reality, particularly for younger generations raised on screens.
Changing the culture also implies acquiring excellence. Smith’s message earned attention because she was a valedictorian. She was able to combine her politics with her academic excellence to make an impact. The same goes for other figures who dominate in their particular field, be it sports, science, or the arts. If conservatives want to challenge this, they need to start being the best.
True, the game is rigged to favor the left, even at the high school level. If conservatives want to unrig that game, however, they need to play the game and win (on this, Ayn Rand’s novels are as relevant today as ever).
At the very least, conservatives should recognize that Smith’s graduation speech is a product of today’s cynical, narcissistic culture. Instead of “speaking truth to power,” she merely conformed to it. Consequently, she will be rewarded while her detractors will be punished, and no one will learn anything.
All this is wrong, but until people pay attention to the factors that result in such a story, there will be many more Paxton Smiths.