“My tweet wasn’t made to mock anyone. I just wanted to show that no matter what barriers you have in front of you, you can still succeed,” Mayte Lara told the Austin American-Statesman on Wednesday.
Lara graduated June 3 from Crockett High School in Austin. The 17-year-old’s tweet read: “Valedictorian, 4.5GPA, full tuition paid for at UT, 13 cords/medals, nice legs, oh and I’m undocumented.”
The tweet went viral and generated a barrage of negative comments online, most calling for her to leave the country and expressing anger at her University of Texas scholarship.
“First and foremost, I can fully admit that I should’ve been more cautious about my word choice, especially in these times where everything you say gets twisted and bashed on,” she said in a statement to CBS affiliate KEYE. “However, I don’t deserve the harassment I’ve been receiving and I should be proud of where I come from.”
Lara said she was unprepared for the backlash and decided to deactivate her account “in attempts to ignore the harmful comments,” she said.
“It was a common trend on twitter to highlight your success through a tweet like that, and I saw many other students from across the country doing the same and sharing the things they’d overcome, so I thought I’d share mine,” she said to KEYE.
Lara has Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, status, which protects certain youths from deportation if they were brought into the U.S. illegally as children. It allows them to legally work and study in the U.S. The status is initially granted for two years and then can be renewed.
Lara, who has lived in the U.S. most of her life, told the newspaper that one of her greatest hardships is overcoming “the stereotype of people like me.”
Lara said she wants to become a resident and then a citizen and adds that she’s grateful for the opportunities the United States has given her.
“Anyone who knows me knows how much I love this country and the doors it’s opened up for me. I’m not bragging about anything, just highlighting my success,” she said to KEYE.
UT spokesman Gary Susswein said privacy laws prevent the university from discussing individual students, but that under state law Texas universities have for decades granted two-semester tuition waivers to valedictorians of Texas public high school without regard to residency status. He noted state law also doesn’t distinguish between documented and undocumented graduates of Texas high schools in admissions and financial aid decisions.
Meanwhile, a valedictorian in North Texas got a standing ovation last week when she revealed her undocumented status during her graduation speech from Boyd High School in McKinney. Larissa Martinez, who left Mexico with her family in 2010, told WFAA-TV, “We just flew over here with luggage and a lot of dreams.”
Martinez, who had a 4.95 GPA, told WFAA that she has a scholarship to Yale University.