Larissa Martinez is one of those overachieving high school students of whom everyone else expects greatness. In her senior year, the 2016 valedictorian of McKinney Boyd High School took 17 AP classes and graduated with a 4.95 GPA. She is headed to Yale this fall on a full scholarship.
Her achievements mirror that of the handful of young prodigies we hear about in the news each year, but Martinez is different. Her success is even more stunning considering the conditions of her family life, conditions she listed as "unexpected realities" in her speech. Martinez lives in a one-bedroom apartment in McKinney, Texas, where she shares a bed with her mother, Deyanira Contreras, and younger sister, Andrea. Contreras left her abusive, alcoholic husband in 2010, relocating herself and her daughters to Texas.
The rest of her speech was anything but ordinary. "Let me be frank," Martinez said. "I am not going to stand up here and give you the traditional Hallmark version of a valedictorian speech."
I am one of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the shadows of the United States. I decided to stand before you today and reveal these unexpected realities because this might be my only chance to convey the truth to all of you — that undocumented immigrants are people, too.
Martinez said that she was hesitant to share that in her speech because of the "great divide in opinions concerning the topic of immigration," but she ultimately felt like she owed it to everyone else to be honest, and to herself.
"[Undocumented immigrants are] 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 said, adding that she herself has been waiting seven years for her citizenship application to be processed.
"I hope that you all 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 to look beyond the way in which the media portrays us, and the dehumanizing accusations that 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."
Watch her full speech here: