Friday, May 30, 2008

Justice Thomas Graduation Speech

From the Washington Times:
Thomas inspires boys school grads
Justice speaks to class of 18

Friday, May 30, 2008

It was no ordinary occurrence for no ordinary students at no ordinary school.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas - accustomed to commanding audiences of thousands at major universities - instead delivered a commencement address last night for 18 graduating middle-school boys at the highly regarded Washington Jesuit Academy in Northeast.

Washington Jesuit is a tuition-free private boarding school for underprivileged but academically promising youths run by the Jesuits - an influential order of Catholic priests legendary for centuries of educational excellence. Inspired academic instruction is but one feature of a boy's life at the school.

Within Washington Jesuit's walls, at least, character counts, and it showed in the eighth-graders' polite demeanor last night.

"It is truly up to each of you to decide what type of building block you will become with your actions," Justice Thomas told the class of primarily black students during his speech.

Like his audience, Justice Thomas came up the hard way - raised in impoverished Pin Point, Ga., and abandoned by his father - but he benefited mightily from a Jesuit education at Holy Cross College. The former seminarian was nominated to the court by President George H.W. Bush in 1991.

Allison Shelley/The Washington Times Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas meets with the graduating class at Washington Jesuit Academy, including (from left) Demitrius McNeil, Marcus Cain and Olushola Shokunbi. Demitrius, 14, said he could relate to Justice Thomas' rise from poverty.

He was sworn in after perhaps the most bitter Supreme Court confirmation fight in memory. A former head of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, he is the only black on the court.

"Remember that life is not easy for any of us, it probably won't be fair and it certainly isn't all about you," he said. "The gray hair and wrinkles you see on older people have been earned the hard way."

The students wore navy sport coats, white and green barber-striped ties and khakis. They gave firm handshakes and made eye contact as they spoke with Justice Thomas about their plans for high school, college and life.

The justice returned the gestures and encouraged each boy with firm pats and a few words such as "congratulations" and "don't stop now."

"It's an honor [to meet the justice]. It's very inspiring that he got past segregation," said valedictorian Airton Kamdem, 14, of Silver Spring. Airton will attend Georgetown Prep in North Bethesda for high school.

"It's a pleasure," said Demitrius McNeil, 14, of Fairfax. "I grew up in a bad neighborhood so I can relate [to Justice Thomas]. It's about making something out of your life." Demitrius will go to Gonzaga College High School in Northwest this fall.

Justice Thomas praised the school for helping prepare academically promising but underprivileged students for the time when they will enter a more competitive collegiate environment, up against students born with more advantages.

"When I was coming up, there was a problem with throwing young people into the fire on the collegiate level without preparing them ... they can't win," he said. "In this situation, they now can win."

The school, which is near Catholic University, was founded in 2002 and helps the boys succeed with small class sizes, 12-hour school days and an 11-month school year.

The academy says only about 11 percent of its students enter the school reading at their grade level, but 95 percent of them graduate doing so. The school also boasts double-digit improvements in students' standardized tests scores after two years.

There are only 38 alumni, but all are in high school and nearly all are in college preparatory programs.

School President William B. Whitaker said the speech was important to the students because Justice Thomas' life shows that anyone can achieve greatness.

"A lot the boys think they can't, they won't," Mr. Whitaker said. "But we try to encourage them and say 'you can, you will and you should.'

Allison Shelley/The Washington Times Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas meets with the graduating class at Washington Jesuit Academy, including (from left) Demitrius McNeil, Marcus Cain and Olushola Shokunbi. Demitrius, 14, said he could relate to Justice Thomas' rise from poverty.

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.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Faculty Embarrass Themselves

At the University of Georgia. See here:
As is the case with most conservative speakers at those pesky liberal bastions (aka colleges), the choice of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as the University of Georgia's commencement speaker has inspired a "reaction that ranges from surprise to infuriation," the Red and Black reports. "Many would consider him a divisive figure because of his voting record and the past allegations of sexual harassment with Anita Hill," said a psychology professor.

The speaker announcement caps a year of sexual harassment scandals on the Georgia campus (three professors have resigned since September because of sexual harassment complaints). But it also comes at a time when faculty members believe the school has made progress on the issue. "What a slap in the face this is to everyone who has been working to bring to light the realities of sexual harassment at [the university]," said the women's studies director.
The President of the University of Georgia defends the choice to invite Justice Thomas:
Clarence Thomas: Suitable speaker at UGA? Yes

Published on: 04/25/08

The University of Georgia has never had, and will never have, I hope, a political litmus test for the speakers who appear at commencement or other events. Associate Justice Clarence Thomas has been generous and gracious with his time and in his support of UGA. In 2006, he spoke at the Blue Key banquet here and received the Blue Key Service Award. At the invitation of Dean David Shipley, he spoke at the School of Law's commencement ceremony in 2003. He has lectured in both the law school and the Honors program, and has given hours of his time in his Washington office to talk with UGA Foundation Fellows.

He has been very helpful to UGA law students who have aspirations to clerk in the Supreme Court. He has also joined me in Sanford Stadium to cheer on the Bulldogs.

As a native Georgian, Justice Thomas has honored his home state with his service on the Supreme Court, and we are honored that he accepted the invitation to speak at commencement. He is welcome on this campus anytime, as is any other sitting or former justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

The tradition of free and open discourse on a university campus is one of the fundamental tenets undergirding all that we do in academe. It is important for our students to hear a wide variety of voices and reach their own conclusions about the important issues of the day. Last year, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer participated in the three-day retrospective on the 30th anniversary of the inauguration of Jimmy Carter. Just last month, we welcomed five former secretaries of state for a round-table discussion sponsored by the School of Law and the School of Public and International Affairs; two of them served Democratic presidents and three served in Republican administrations.

On a single day in April 2006, we hosted former President George H.W. Bush, a Republican, who participated in the dedication of the Coverdell Center, and former Sen. John Edwards, a Democrat, who was campaigning for the presidency.

The roster of recent commencement speakers demonstrates a variety of points of view, as it should. We have hosted Georgia governors of both parties; Ted Turner; Time Magazine Editor in Chief John Huey; U.S. Sens. Phil Gramm, Zell Miller and Saxby Chambliss; U.S Rep. Sanford Bishop; and Clark Atlanta University President Walter Broadnax.

At a large academic institution, opinions will always differ regarding the choice of commencement speaker, but each of us should remember that graduation day is a day for the students, those who have completed their academic work and are looking forward to careers or graduate school.

Commencement is truly a grand, celebratory occasion at the University of Georgia, and our focus on May 10 in Sanford Stadium will be on the accomplishments of the 4,000-plus bright undergraduates who will graduate that morning.

Michael F. Adams is president of the University of Georgia.

Commencement Speech at High Point University

An article:
Supreme Court justice speaks at HPU commencement
By Nancy H. McLaughlin
Staff Writer
Sunday, May. 4, 2008 3:00 am

HIGH POINT — If Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas were to package Saturday's commencement speech at High Point University into an inspirational book about learning everything needed for life, he could call it "Those old folks are right."

"Good manners will open doors that nothing else will open," Thomas told graduates seated on the manicured lawn of the private college. More than 600 diplomas were awarded on a morning fraught with sporadic wind bursts heavy enough to upend stacks of printed programs.

Other advice from Thomas: "Remember the rewards of self-indulgence are not nearly as great as the rewards of self-discipline. Remember that life is not easy and probably will not be fair."

"When I was younger and acted as though I knew everything, the older people knew better. ... The older I have gotten, the smarter they have become," said Thomas, who became a jurist of the country's highest court when most of the HPU graduates had not even begun first grade.

"Chief among those who have grown in stature is my grandfather, who seemed small and irrelevant when I sat where you sit," Thomas said of his own graduation day.

"Today, he is the greatest man I've ever known."

. . .

In his remarks, Thomas would go on to describe a life shaped by faith, discipline and the power of positive thinking.

"I was 9 years old when I met my father," Thomas said. "The point is not to complain, but rather to say: Just because it starts a certain way doesn't mean it has to end that way."

. . .
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