8 June 2016, McKinney, Texas, USA
Good afternoon. My name is Larissa Martinez and I am delighted to be standing here as the valedictorian of the class of 2016. In all, it's been a great year so far. As we are graduating today, the leader of the free world, Beyonce, dropped a new album Lemonade, and the greatest entertainer in our generation is leaving the White House. First and foremost, I would like to thank all of the parents and family members who are always there to make sure we would make it all the way to today. I would also like to thank all of the faculty and staff at McKinney Boyd because this school wouldn't be the same without them. Now I know some of you may be prepared to call me out, like Damian from Mean Girls, but I assure you that I do in fact go here.
Even though two fifths of you don't know of my existence. To each and every single one of you I saw thank you. You taught me that it's OK to be different and to overlook those differences, and accept you for being yourself. You also taught me that it is OK to push people to the side while rushing to class. I would also like to give special thanks to the people that have changed my life in one way or another and have stuck with my for the last few years. I know I am not always the easiest person to deal, so thank you for being there when I needed you the most. I would also like to thank my sister Andrew for giving me one more reason to keep going when it all seemed pointless. Finally the person I am most thankful for is my mother. You've been there with me through thick and thin. You are my best friend. While most mothers move move mountains for their children, you literally moved countries. Every sacrifice you have made, you have made for us. You are my number one fan and you never lost faith in me, even when I lost faith in myself. For that and many other things I will be eternally grateful.
Let me be frank. I am not going to stand up here and give you the Hallmark version of the valedictorian speech. Instead I would like to offer you a different kind of speech. One that discusses expectations versus reality. Many of you see may see me standing up here and must think "Her life is pretty great." Her parents must be very proud. I decided to stand before you today, and reveal these unexpected realities because this might be the only chance I get to convey the truth to all of you, that undocumented immigrants are people too. Those are only half truths. They are the expectations.
My reality is slightly different. On July 11 it will be exactly six years since I moved to McKinney from Mexico City, where I was born and raised. When people see me standing up here, they see a girl who is Yale-bound and has her life figured out. But that is far from the whole truth. So now I would like to convey my fair share of realities.
Reality number one: At the age of 11 I was nothing more than a girl with an abusive and alcoholic father who had to depend on her mother's strength. I was a girl with a dream that one day I would become an American and a girl that thought moving countries would solve all of the problems in her life.
Unexpected reality number two: At the age of 12 I was faced with the task of having to adapt and embrace a new culture. Often my intelligence was questioned due to my background. I was also faced with giving up part of my childhood so I could look after my little sister Andrea while my mom worked from morning until late at night. School became my safe haven because, despite not having internet, a washing machine, or even my own bed. I always had knowledge at my fingertips thanks to my school. And I realized that my be the only way I could help my family. Although we do not all share the same struggles or the same obstacles throughout life, we do share some of the sentiments. I know what it is like to be put down, to have your achievements put down, to not be acknowledged to be powerless. So at this time I would like to commend each and every single one of you here for preserving through your own challenges and being the resilient human beings you wanted to be. And from not letting any obstacles getting in the way of you today. We all have struggles. Struggles we want to face behind closed doors because others discovered them, it would be at our must vulnerable state and we would never be looked at the same way. Well, after all of these years, I have finally mustered up the courage to stand before and share a struggle I have to deal with each and every day.
Unexpected reality number three: I am one of the 11million undocumented immigrants living in the shadow of the United States. I decided to stand before you today, and reveal these unexpected realities because this might be the only chance I get to convey the truth to all of you, that undocumented immigrants are people too. I was hesitant to speak about this today, because of the great divide in opinions concerning the topic of immigration in America. But I feel like I owe it to you to be honest, and I owe it to myself. The most important part of the debate, and the part most overlooked, is the fact 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 based on hatred and prejudice. We are here without official documentation, because the US immigration system is broken. And it has forced many families to live in fear. I myself have even been waiting seven years for my application to be processed. So I hope that all of you leave here today knowing that we are trying to do it the right way, but we don't know how.
I ask for all of you to try and look beyond the way the media portrays us and the dehumanizing accusations some politicians have made. I ask for you to please keep your hearts open and try to find the love and understanding that makes us human. Because after all we are people, just like you. While I can't predict the future, and tell you how successful you are all going to be. But by sharing my story today, I hope I can convince all of you that if I can break every stereotype based on what I am classified as - Mexican, female, undocumented - so can you. We do not have to let expectations become our reality. I am no expert in this journey we call life. But I am living proof that beating the system is possible. We do not have to conform to the limitations that others put on us. There will always be people that judge us, and set expectations based on their preconceived ideas of who they think we are and who they think we should be. However we have the ability to prove them wrong. In those moments when you need a reason to continue moving forward, close your eyes and picture yourself in the future setting. They told me I couldn't so I did. Thank you