Admitting you’re an illegal immigrant isn’t what one expects to hear in a graduation speech. But that’s just what Texas valedictorian Larissa Martinez said as she graduated McKinney Boyd high School last Friday.
“I am one of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the shadow of the United States,” she declared to a packed auditorium. “After all 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.”
Larissa blamed the United States immigration system for her undocumented stats, and even took a few swipes at GOP nominee Donald Trump.
There is a “great divide” on the topic of immigration, she said. “We are here without official documentation because the US immigration system is broken and it has forced many families to live in fear.”
While she didn’t mention Trump’s name, Larissa’s heartbreaking words were clearly aimed at the Republican nominee:
“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.”
Larissa was born and raised in Mexico City. At age 12, Larissa fled to America with her sister and mother to escape her abusive and alcoholic father.
Fitting into a “new culture,” was hard, she said during her 9-minute speech. Larissa mentioned that her “intelligence was questioned” based on her accent and background. While her mother worked day and night to support the girls, Larissa gave up a big part of her childhood to raise her little sister.
The three of them share a one-bedroom apartment in McKinney, a suburb north of Dallas.
“I myself have been living 7 years for my application to be processed,” she says, adding that her dream is to “one day become an American.” My family and I are “trying to do it the right way, but we don’t know how.”
She urged her audience to look beyond the media’s portrayal of immigrants, to overlook the “dehumanizing accusations that some politicians have made.”
Larissa wrapped things up by labeling herself as living proof that “beating the system is possible.” The speech ended with a standing ovation.
Larissa took 17 AP classes during her four years at McKinney and graduated with a 4.95 GPA. She has earned a full ride to Yale University and will be heading to Connecticut in the fall to pursue a medical career.