Paxton Smith and Savannah Lefler: Two Valedictorian Speeches, One Double Standard

Savannah Lefler was vilified for speaking of Christ; Paxton Smith became a media darling for speaking in favor of abortion.

Commencement (photo: McElspeth / Pixabay/CC0)

Two recent speeches of high-school valedictorians have highlighted the double standards of the American public school system.

The first was valedictorian Paxton Smith’s viral May 30 graduation address at Lake Highlands High School in Dallas, Texas. She switched her approved speech for one in which she railed against Texas’ new heartbeat bill. The bill, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law last month, would prohibit abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected — about six weeks into pregnancy.

“I am terrified that if my contraceptives fail, I am terrified that if I am raped, then my hopes and aspirations and dreams and efforts for my future will no longer matter,” Smith said. “I hope that you can feel how gut-wrenching that is. I hope you can feel how dehumanizing it is, to have the autonomy over your own body taken away from you.”

Contrast her words with those of Savannah Lefler, this year’s valedictorian at John Glenn High School in Michigan. School administrators told Lefler to change the speech she wrote for an event for honors students after she submitted it for review because it emphasized her Christian faith.

“The purpose of life is to live a life devoted to Christ,” her speech read. “Seeing that man is completely unable to achieve perfection … Then he rose from the dead three days later, thus vindicating his holiness and divinity. This allows us to fulfill our purpose in glorifying God because we can now stand before him blameless if we repent and trust in Christ and his finished work. May his name be praised forever!”

After legal intervention by the First Liberty law firm, Lefler was allowed to proceed with her speech with the disclaimer that the school did not endorse her views. Even so, the district maintained its concerns that it was “too Christianized” and disrespectful of other faith traditions.

The different responses to these speeches are telling. Smith garnered praise from the likes of Sarah Silverman and Hilary Clinton and gave glowing interviews to magazines and television networks. Her district discreetly stepped back, saying after the fact: “The content of each student speaker's message is the private, voluntary expression of the individual student and does not reflect the endorsement, sponsorship, position or expression of the District or its employees.”

An attorney representing Lefler’s district wrote in a letter to First Liberty, “Nearly half of Ms. Lefler’s draft speech was unmoored from any sort of academic or pedagogical interest related to the School District’s Honors Convocation. Rather, it was an attempt to proselytize at a school-sponsored event, with the School District’s imprimatur.”

Both of these young women had the right to say what they did. But the one who wanted to talk about her faith in Christ and went through the proper channels was rewarded with a legal battle. The one who bypassed those channels to claim she needs the right to kill her child to be successful became the media’s darling of the week. 

As a very recent grad, I know that the best graduation speeches I heard offered encouragement and direction for my future. Lefler tried to offer that to her classmates by sharing the good news and truth of the Gospel. Smith, meanwhile, repeated the anti-woman lies of pro-choice activists by telling her classmates that their ability to pursue their professional dreams and access to abortion are directly correlated. One message was true, the other false.

I know which one I’d want to hear.