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'Care for some strawberries?': Valedictorian honors immigrant parents in powerful graduation speech

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Posted at 6:32 AM, Jun 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-01 07:32:18-04

A Florida teen is capturing national attention with her powerful valedictorian speech and clever use of strawberries as a stage prop.

Brenda Alvarez-Lagunas publicly thanked her immigrant parents at her graduation from Mulberry High School, May 24 in Mulberry, Florida. The 18-year-old opened her 8-minute speech by placing a carton of fruit on the podium.

"Care for some strawberries?" Alvarez-Lagunas says in the graduation video shared on YouTube by Polk County Public Schools. After jokingly acknowledging that there may not be enough for everyone, she then she goes on to say, "These are no ordinary strawberries."

Alvarez-Lagunas describes herself as the daughter of two tireless farmers who spent most of their days working in fields of strawberries, blueberries, cucumbers and sweet potatoes.

In her speech she holds up a series of strawberries and reveals, one by one, what each one represents: sweat, dirt, the blazing sun and aches and pains.

"I am motivated by my mother's hands that are slowly losing feeling from years of arduous work in the dirt and fields," she said. "And I am motivated by the endless support that I had been given."

Her speech has been viewed by thousands online -- something Alvarez-Lagunas told "Good Morning America" that she's very grateful for.

"It touched my heart to hear it touched other people's hearts [who said ] they understood my message," said Alvarez-Lagunas. "I wanted to use my platform to show migrant students or students that come from migrant parents: No matter what you do ... all of these accomplishments are a big deal."

She explained how she grew up under poor conditions, which worsened after her father was deported to Mexico. Her mother and father both left school after the fourth grade, and her sister dropped out after she became pregnant.

Nonetheless, Alvarez-Lagunas said her parents taught her the value of a strong work ethic and resilience.

"Despite the beaming sun and the body aches and pains, their smile showed with every bucket of produce they carried," she said during her speech.

Mulberry High School principal Michael Young said Alvarez-Lagunas' speech evoked an emotional response from the crowd of nearly 3,000.

"She really had such a focus on her dreams, and she knew what opportunity was, being of a migrant family of such limited opportunity," Young told "GMA.". "She's a very talented girl."

Alvarez-Lagunas is a founding member of the Adelante Club, which organizes toy drives and food drives and provides literacy outreach for migrant youth.

She finished her high school career as school valedictorian with a 4.68 GPA. She will study bioengineering at Stanford University on scholarship.

Alvarez-Lagunas said she credits some of her success to her mentor Dani Higgins, who helps migrant students and those living under poor conditions.

As for her message to young people struggling to persevere, Alvarez-Lagunas said, "Everything is what you make of it."

"If you come from a poor family, use every resource you possibly can and try to better yourself," she told GMA. "Never let circumstances bring you down."