A Valedictorian’s Folly
Honestly, is there anyone who attends a high school graduation looking forward to the speeches? You
know the ones, they are endless, and they keep us from the task at hand, that of joining the cacophony of cheers to acknowledge those graduating, especially if the graduate is a member of our family, a close friend, or the child of a close friend.
And we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge that part of that endless litany of speeches was the
valedictorian’s speech. Can we even admit that there is a perception that some of the valedictorians’
speeches are intertwined with a sense of innocent vainglory? And if we continue with this path of
honesty, can we admit that if it were not for the innocence, the self-importance could easily go off the
Fast forward to a Sunday in Texas and to that ubiquitous rite of spring, the high school graduation, and the valedictorian’s speech.
While it has been several years since I graduated from high school, for me, valedictorian has in many
ways equaled wisdom. Here we had an individual that excelled beyond their peers to the top rank.
From my perspective, the valedictorian outpaced their peers to stand above the fray and exemplify
something to be admired. And honestly, maybe I should listen to what they have to say.
This brings us back to that Sunday in Texas and to that ubiquitous rite of spring, the high school
graduation, and the valedictorian’s speech. But this time, one must give themself some room to
consider all that this valedictorian had to share.
I am speaking expressly about the valedictorian speech given to the Lake Highlands graduating class and its greater community. A speech that many expected to be routine and would be given for the students, faculty, and family members of the Lake Highlands High School community but instead, one that exceeded those boundaries and became viral social media fodder for radical anti-life rhetoric.
When I first heard and read the speech, I was struck by its self-interest. Was the vaunted valedictorian
thinking only of herself? Thankfully, because of its viral nature, I was able to go back and review the
speech. Again, the valedictorian’s self-interest was evident and what also came to the fore, was
something she abhorred, her ability to bear life. Can the student who rises above all of her peers really
abhor an intrinsic gift? Yes, she can, and yes, she shared her disdain for something that has been my
highest calling, motherhood.
But not only that, she shared an astonishment that her dreams, hopes, and ambitions could be derailed by an uncaring majority that would deny her the right to an abortion. This claim made me consider what could have brought her to this point. Among these considerations was the thought that her educational community, both teachers and parents, had failed to help her understand that life provided no sure path for those dreams, hopes, and ambitions. I wanted her to know that she had been lied to, that choice does not equal freedom. I wanted her to know that as she steps into adult life, her belief in all things “her” was about to come to a screeching halt. That her perception that she could control everything was about to explode in her face.
Did a valedictorian slated to attend the University of Texas in Austin but who had not declared a field of
study really think that her exploration of ideas and the wide potential of fields to study were within her
realm of control? Really? Sitting in a class and realizing it was of no interest or that it held no potential
career possibilities never crossed her mind? She was the valedictorian, surely, she was wiser than that.
And surely, just as she feared what would happen to her dreams, hopes, and ambitions should her
contraceptives fail, she was aware that contraceptives fail at an exceedingly high rate, especially among
her peers. And surely, she knew that when they do, there are many women with dreams, hopes, and
ambitions that make the hard choice of parenting, of allowing the child that was certainly outside of
those dreams, hopes, and ambitions to live. And that when these women make that choice, their
dreams, hopes, and ambitions change, they grow, they expand their world with possibilities not
considered because they had initially lived for self and thought they controlled every aspect of their life.
I wanted this valedictorian, the young woman who had excelled beyond her peers, to know that no one had done anything to her other than to sell her a bill of goods. I wanted her to know that it was not the current legislators in Austin that had done anything to her but that it was a group of seven black-robed men in Washington DC who handed to a nation the fateful decision of Roe. It was these men, their decision, that had done something to her. That this decision was foisted upon her without her consent and that the adults in her life had failed to bring her to an understanding of what that fateful decision made so long ago entailed.
I wanted her to know that worldwide, in the year-to-date 2021, over 17 million children had had a
decision foisted upon them that terminated their potential dreams, hopes, and ambitions, all without
their consent and completely out of their control. And that since that fatefully cold January day in 1973, over 65 million children in the United States were not allowed to see the light of day and develop dreams, hopes, and ambitions. Neither had they consented, just like the valedictorian, but while she was left with dreams, hopes, and ambitions, they were left with nothing. For some, not even a grave.
As I moved beyond wanting her to know, I reached a point where I began to hope that she would see
the difference between a life spent surrendered to caring for and giving voice to a voiceless
demographic and one spent on self. I hoped that she would see that caring for the rights of sisters,
mothers, and daughters, meant that she acknowledged that generations of such individuals were not
given such choices because of the choice she championed, the choice of abortion.
This valedictorian stands at a crossroads. A crossroad directed toward self and the destruction of others through the false message of choice, or a crossroad directed toward self-giving that seeks life and truth for oneself and others. And I hoped for myself that my understanding that valedictorian equals wisdom could remain intact. I hope this valedictorian does not fail me like the message of choice, the adults and her education had failed her.