Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas spoke before several hundred graduating seniors on Monday and commended to them the same timeless values he said had led him to their podium.
“It is never wrong to do what is right,” he told Gaithersburg’s Quince Orchard High School class of 2009. “Hard, but never wrong.”
The rare public appearance began with a conversation on a flight from Omaha, Neb., to Washington, D.C.
Quince Orchard football star Terrence Stephens was returning from a recruiting trip at the University of Nebraska. Thomas, a die-hard Cornhusker fan, recognized him immediately. The young man had no idea who Thomas was.
“It was scary because this guy who I didn’t know was telling me all about myself,” Stephens said.
But he was polite and entertained Thomas’ uncommon obsession, which springs in part from his marriage to a Nebraskan. And that made all of the difference. In the months since, Thomas has become a mentor to Stephens. And it was the school’s top jock who invited the 17-year justice to speak before his graduating class.
Thomas urged the graduates to honor traditional values of humility, hard work and gratitude. “Always have good manners — they will open doors,” he told the graduates.
“Stay positive,” he said. “There will be many around you who are cynical or negative or know-it-alls or bitter. These attitudes are cancers of the spirit that do nothing worthwhile, and rob one of the spirit to prosper.”
He reminded them of their place, even as they felt on top of the world.
“Life is not easy for any of us. It will probably not be fair, and it certainly is not all about you,” he said. “The gray hairs and wrinkles you see on older people have been earned the hard way, by living and dealing with the challenges of life.”
And he brought laughter by confessing no familiarity with modern indulgences like text messaging or Twitter, or even Facebook.
Thomas asked them to be grateful. He told a story of his eighth-grade teacher whom he thanked many years later, and stayed in touch with until her death. Among her favorite possessions was a framed photo with Thomas.
His voice broke slightly as he recalled words she told him near her death: “This goes in my coffin with me.”
“Thank your parents and teachers and all who helped you,” Thomas said. “A simple thank you will do wonders.”
It’s a message he has already begun to instill in Stephens. “I’m so thankful — he has already offered me so much,” the young man said. “Now, he wants me to keep helping myself, so that he can keep helping me.”
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Thomas high school graduation speech
From the Washington Examiner: