A North Texas high school valedictorian gave quite a different kind of commencement speech at a graduation ceremony on Friday. She announced she was in the United States illegally, blamed the U.S. immigration system for her illegal status, and even took a few veiled swipes at the presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald J. Trump.
McKinney Boyd High School valedictorian Larissa Martinez also mentioned she was Yale University bound when she stood before a packed auditorium and declared: “I am one of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the shadows of the United States.”
Eleven million is the often quoted and questioned U.S. government statistic of illegal immigrants living in the United States. Martinez stated that sharing this information about her status was part of one of her life struggles. “After all of these years, I have finally mustered up the courage to stand before you and share a struggle I’ve had to deal with each and every day.”
Martinez later told Dallas’ WFAA 8 in an interview that her Ivy League college education is funded on a full-ride scholarship. She hopes to go to med school.
During her speech, Martinez also said she decided to make her immigration status, which she again referred to as “undocumented,” a focal point of her valedictorian speech because of the “great divide of opinion on the topic of immigration in America.”She asserted: “We are here without official documentation because the U.S. immigration system is broken and it has forced many families to live in fear.”Following her declaration, she said: “Undocumented immigrants are people too.”Martinez became a little emotional. Attendees and graduates of the McKinney Independent School District erupted into hoots, hollers and thunderous applause.
Although she never mentioned billionaire real estate mogul and presumptive GOP presidential candidate Donald J. Trump by name, Martinez stated: “The most important part of the debate and is often overlooked is that immigrants, undocumented or otherwise, are people too. People with dreams, aspirations, hopes and loved ones. People like me. People who have become a part of the American society and way of life and who yearn to help make ‘America great again’ without the construction of a wall built on hatred and prejudice.”
Martinez admitted to WFAA 8 that she purposefully alluded to Trump in her speech. “I didn’t know if people would pick up on that, but I knew, and that made me feel better so,” she stated.
In the course of her nearly nine minute speech, Martinez addressed a few of her other life struggles. “On July 11 it will be exactly six years since I moved to McKinney from Mexico City where I was born and raised.” WFAA 8 reported that Martinez, her sister, and mother jetted into Texas from Mexico in 2010 and live in a one-bedroom apartment in McKinney, a desirable middle class suburb north of Dallas.
Other struggles Martinez shared from the podium included memories of being 11 years old and having an abusive and alcoholic father back in Mexico City, where she said she was born and raised. She segued recollections at the age of 12 and her struggle with living in the U.S. where had to embrace and fit into a “new culture.” She asserted that “often her intelligence was questioned” based on her background. She asserted she had to give up a part of her childhood to help raise her little sister since their mother, Deyanira Contreras, worked day and night to support the girls once living in Texas.
She told the other McKinney high school graduates and their families that she was a girl whose dream was to “one day become an American.”
Although, to date, she is not legal. “I myself have been living 7 years for my application to be processed.” She hoped everyone left the graduation ceremony knowing that “we are trying to do it the right way but we don’t know how.”
It is not known if Martinez has applied for or obtained temporary legal status under President Obama’s executive amnesty plan, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
Martinez asked everyone in attendance to look beyond the “way the media portrays us” and to overlook those “dehumanizing accusations that some politicians have made.” She wanted people to “keep your heart open” and try to find “the love and understanding that makes us human.”
In the speech, she thanked her mother who instead of moving mountains “moved countries for me and my sister.” Martinez wrapped up her remarks by saying that while she is no expert on life, she is living proof that “beating the system is possible.”
Prior to Friday’s graduation ceremony, only 10 people in the McKinney Independent School District knew she was living illegally in the U.S., she told WFAA 8. The local TV news outlet also reported she had a 4.95 GPA and took 17 AP classes while in high school.
The Collin County Democrats, whose Twitter motto is “Let’s Go Blue,” hailed Martinez as their “hero of the week.”