Monday, May 12, 2008

Justice Thomas Speaks at UGA

From Online Athens:
Thomas tells grads of goal blocked by injustice
By Blake Aued
Sunday, May 11, 2008

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, the fifth Georgian to serve on the high court, would have been the first black University of Georgia graduate if he'd had his way.

Thomas wanted to be a Bulldog, but segregation stopped him, he said Saturday during his commencement address at Sanford Stadium.

"Forty-one years ago, when I graduated from high school in Savannah, attending the University of Georgia was not an option," he said. "Thankfully, much has changed in my lifetime. Knowing what I know today, I would go to school here in a heartbeat. Georgia is home, and Georgia is where I belong."

. . .

He credited his grandparents, relatives and friends - farmers, yard workers and maids, mostly - in his native Pin Point for raising him right.

"They went along with their lives doing their best with what they had, knowing all the while that this was not necessarily fair," he said. "They played the hand they were dealt, and through it all, they were unfailingly good, decent and kind people, whose unrequited love for our great country and hope for our future were shining examples for all of us to emulate in our own struggles."

The controversial justice spurned politics, jurisprudence and the usual lofty rhetoric of commencement speakers. Instead, he praised old-fashioned virtues like faith, gratitude, honesty, discipline, politeness, punctuality and sincerity.

"Look, many have been angry at me because I refuse to be angry, bitter or full of grievances, and some will be angry at you for not becoming agents of their most recent cynical causes," he said. "Don't worry about it. No monuments are ever built to cynics."

Thomas recalled when the socialist writer Michael Harrington spoke at his own commencement in 1971. But Thomas said he was more worried at the time about paying off his student loans and his upcoming wedding than about Harrington's message.

"He seemed to be exhorting us on to solve the problems of poverty and injustice," Thomas said. "As important as that was, I, like most people sitting here today, was focused on solving my own problems, so I would not become a problem for or a burden to others."

Some faculty and students criticized UGA President Michael Adams' selection of Thomas to deliver the commencement address. About 1,200 people signed an online petition opposing the choice. Thomas was accused of sexual harassment during his 1991 Senate confirmation hearings, and a rash of harassment scandals has plagued UGA lately.

But he received a standing ovation Saturday, and graduates said his speech's humor and homespun wisdom resonated with them.

"A lot of the things he said are the same things my mother and auntie say all the time," psychology and pre-med major LaKeithia Glover said.

. . .

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, left, shares a laugh Saturday with University of Georgia President Michael Adams during commencement ceremonies in Sanford Stadium.
From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Thomas gives grads familiar advice

By Jeffry Scott
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 05/11/08

Athens —- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, the commencement speaker before the 2008 graduating class of the University of Georgia, said when he graduated from high school 41 years ago, attending UGA "was not an option" because schools in the state were still largely segregated.

But then Thomas, who grew up in Pin Point, outside Savannah, told the approximately 3,500 graduating students gathered on the field at Sanford Stadium on Saturday that he was happy to be back at the school, where he gave the law school commencement address in 2003.

"Georgia is my home," he said. "Georgia is where I belong."

In recent weeks the UGA administration had come under criticism from some faculty members for inviting Thomas, because of allegations of sexual harassment brought against him 17 years ago during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate.

There were no fireworks Saturday, either outside the ceremony —- where there were no protests —- nor in the text of his address, which was heavy on chestnuts of wisdom such as "I urge you to do the best to be your best."

Thomas, who seldom gives interviews and has been criticized for not asking questions from the bench —- he once went two years and sat in on 142 cases in the Supreme Court without speaking in the courtroom —- seemed uncomfortable straying from his prepared text.

At least twice he misread what was written, and doubled back to correct himself. But he was offering wisdom, not inspiration.

"The rewards of self-indulgence are not nearly as great as the rewards of self-discipline," he told the students.

He spoke highly of the lessons his grandparents taught him and how only in his later years he has come to realize the value of those lessons.

He recalled how 30 years ago a janitor who worked in the U.S. Senate saw Thomas was troubled and pulled him aside to tell him he needed to be strong and unselfish to benefit others.

"He told me 'Son, you cannot give what you do not have,' " Thomas said.

When he left the podium, Thomas, who spoke for 22 minutes, received a standing ovation.

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