Most high school valedictorian speeches cover the standard grad sentiments: Holding onto your high school memories, moving on to new challenges and adventures and being excited about whatever the future might hold. And why shouldn’t they? It’s often a charged, emotional and exciting time. But for Texas teen Larissa Martinez, the same old wasn’t going to cut it.
Larissa’s mom moved her and her sister from Mexico City to the United States in 2010 to escape an abusive, alcoholic husband. She worked early mornings and late into the night to support her two girls, often leaving Larissa to take care of her younger sister. Larissa found solace in school — without the Internet, the library was her access to information. She thrived in school, holding the top ranking in her year, maintaining a 4.95 GPA and taking 17 AP classes. Naturally, she was chosen to be McKinney Boyd High School’s class of 2016 valedictorian. And in a speech wise beyond most teens’ years, she bravely revealed the fact that she did it all while living as an undocumented immigrant.
Despite having filed for citizenship shortly after arriving, the family has still never heard back about their paperwork being processed. “The most important part of the debate and the part most often overlooked is the fact that immigrants, undocumented or otherwise, are people too,” Larissa says in her speech. “People with dreams, aspirations, hopes and loved ones. People like me.”
Larissa told WFFA that, in a way, she felt like she was born to do this — to bring this conversation to the table. Her mother, Deyanira Contreras, agrees, telling WFFA, “[Larissa] said, ‘What do you think?’ And then I realized; that’s what we are. That’s what you are… That’s your story.”
It’s the story of an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US, and while Larissa faced immediate backlash for her admittedly controversial admission, ultimately, she has inspired many more. With a full scholarship to Yale, Larissa hopes to enter their pre-med program and become a neurosurgeon. And we have absolutely no doubt that we haven’t heard the last from her yet.
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