Clarence Thomas Speaks at Hillsdale College’s Commencement Ceremony

Clarence Thomas Speaks at Hillsdale College’s Commencement Ceremony

Larry Arnn:
We have with us today an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
You may read his biography in your program. You will see in it that he was born in Pin
Point, Georgia, south of Savannah, in a shanty without a bathroom or electricity except light
in the kitchen. You will see that he is a proximate descendant of slaves. He was raised
by his grandparents, Myers and Christine Anderson, his mother being unable to manage it financially. You must read his book, ‘My Grandfather’s
Son’ which is an inspiration. You will read that the Justice attended Pius X High School
in Savannah, Georgia from 1962 to ’64 ninth and tenth grades. I will tell you now that
Hillsdale College is proud of its 13th charter schools, and that one of those in Savannah,
Georgia operates in that building where Justice Thomas went for two years. The eighth grade
of that school is here with us today, along with their grade headmaster, Ben Payne and
several members of their staff. One of them, Hillsdale graduate, Kayla Fletcher, formerly
Cash. Mr. Payne has forbidden me to ask these students
to stand for reasons that may be good, but it turns out it’s necessary for me to ask
them to stand because yesterday, almost all of them committed to attend to Hillsdale College,
and I want the admissions office to see who they are. Stand up, Savannah Classical wherever
you are. (Applause) Justice Thomas was a brilliant student, but these guys might be better. I’ve
been privileged to know the Justice since 1987. I formed to view early that he is the
greatest public servant I know. When I became president of the college, Chairman Brodbeck
asked me who I’d like to speak at my inauguration ceremonies, and I replied that I of course
hoped it would be this greatest man, and he did that for me, and I’m grateful to him,
honored beyond any telling, honored beyond any telling his being here today. There are two reasons I believe of him as
I do. The first is the quality of his work. I took to redeem to his opinions after he
got on the court. I had been reading everything he wrote before that. One finds in them a
great act of recovering. He reads the constitution both originally
and profoundly. He sees in it the structure that provides the form in which the American
people can pursue their purposes. He understands that it is their document that they passed
it, and that is the only law that they have ever passed. He sees that it must remain constant
if it is to remain their own. He says that if you read it intelligently, you must, you
have the duty to get the rights and the justice of each case right according to the details,
but also you must understand its large purposes which culminate I will say according to the
people who wrote it in the purposes I named as the purposes of this college, that is, that
each one of us may govern himself and his country so as to live a fully human life. There is in these opinions a beautiful history
of American law and a treasure of civilization and freedom. These are large claims that I
do not have time to prove them, but if you write me a letter, I will send you the opinions
that do prove them. The second is his character. He is a man deeply moved by his loves, and
they are the right loves. He loves freedom and equality. He finds in them what the best Americans have
found, the challenge to live well, to face one’s fears, to build one’s character, to
develop one’s mind. I have seen him demonstrate this on so many occasions I cannot count,
and I stand in awe of them. He is I think the kind of man as the greatest visitor to
our college in the 19th century. I mean, the runaway slave, Frederick Douglass. That man
like our speaker today was mistreated and abused because of the color of his skin. Of
course, Douglass more severely than Thomas, but not more severely than Thomas’ ancestors. The reaction of Douglass to this abuse was
to love the principles and institutions of our country which condemn the abuse that he
received, because they proclaimed the wrong of that abuse and because they offer the hope
that no one may suffer that abuse. The response of Justice Thomas to harm is to preach good,
good for all, good for all the same. It is the attitude of the great-souled man of the
magnanimous man, and it shows itself all the time. Seeking to honor this man which we all
come here to do today, of course, it is rather we who are honored. Please welcome, Associate
Justice of the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas. (Applause) Clarence Thomas:
Thank you, Dr. Arnn. Thank you all. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you all. Dr. Arnn, Chairman Brodbeck, members of the
board, members of the faculty, family, friends, most of all, graduates, I’m honored to be
here. I’m particularly honored because my bride is with me. We spent quite a bit of
time together, and we like I think to have memories together, and this is indeed is a
memory. Again, I’d like to thank Dr. Arnn for inviting me. Again, I express my deep
honor and gratitude to participate in these commencement exercises. It’s been quite some years since Virginia
and I have been here together. We’ve been here on separate occasions but rarely together.
Of course, we have known Dr. Larry and Mrs. Arnn, Penny Arnn for many, many years as Dr.
Arnn has indicated, and we have been quite close to Hillsdale throughout its tenure.
We both admire the work that is being done here to educate young men and young women.
I was fortunate to have had David Morrell, a Hillsdale graduate, clerk for me a few years
back. He was an outstanding law clerk and a wonderful,
brilliant, young man. He’s also one of my daily mass companions. I also had a chance
last evening as Dr. Arnn mentioned to visit with the young students who attend Savannah
Classical Academy in my hometown, Savannah, Georgia. What a wonderful idea. As Dr. Arnn
indicated, this is the very same school that I attended high school in in the 1960’s. This has been a most difficult term at the
court. This difficulty is underscored by the sudden and tragic passing of my colleague
and friend, Justice Antonin Scalia. I think it is fitting to say a few words about him,
particularly here. Many will focus on his intellect and his legal prowess. I do not
demure in either case, but there is so much more to the man than that. When I think of Justice Scalia, I think of
the good man whom I could instinctively trust during my first days on the court, and those
were challenging days. He was in the tradition of the south of my youth, a man of his word,
a man of character. Over the almost 25 years that we were together, I think we made the
court a better place for each other. (Applause) I certainly know that he made it a better
place for me. He was kind to me when it mattered most in those early days. He is and will be
sorely missed. As the year since I attended college etched
toward a half century, I feel a bit out of place talking with college students or recent
graduates. Much has changed since I left college in 1971. Things that were once considered
firm have long since lost their vitality, and much that seemed inconceivable is now
firmly or universally established. Hallmarks of my youth such as patriotism and religion
seem more like outliers, if not afterthoughts. In a sense, I feel willfully out of place
doing this or any commencement. My words will perhaps be more of a vintage nature than current
in content. Words actually matter, not a current newspeak.
I admit to be unapologetically Catholic, unapologetically patriotic, and unapologetically a constitutionalist.
(Applause) In my youth, we had a small farm. I am convinced that the time I spent there
had much to do with my firm resolve to never farm again. Work seemed to spring eternal
like the weeds that consumed so much of our time in our lives and our efforts. One of the constantly conveyed messages was
our obligation to take care of the land and to use it to produce food for ourselves and
for others. If there was to be independence, self-sufficiency or freedom, then we had to
first understand, accept, and then discharge our responsibilities. The latter were the
necessary but not always sufficient antecedents or precursors of the former. The only guarantee
was that if you did not discharge your responsibilities, there could be no independence, no self-sufficiency,
no freedom, no crops. In a broader context, we were obligated in our neighborhood to be
good neighbors so that the neighborhood would thrive. Whether there was to be a clean, thriving
neighborhood was directly connected to our efforts and to our conduct, so there was always
to our way of thinking a connection and a relationship between the things we valued
most and our personal obligations or efforts. There could be no freedom without each of
us discharging our responsibilities. That was first and foremost. In that context, when
we heard the words, ‘Duty’, ‘Honor’, ‘County’, no more needed to be said, but that is a bygone
era. Today, we rarely hear of our personal responsibilities in discussions of broad notions
such as freedom or liberty. It is as though freedom and liberty exist,
wholly independent of anything we do. Seemingly, it is our version of predestination or as
my grandfather often warned us or told us “Money didn’t grow on trees”. Perhaps, we
think liberty grows on trees. Their existence ab initium and continuing
is independent of our conduct. In fact, this era is one in which any difference or different
treatment is inherently suspect. Apparently, we all deserve the same reward,
the same status, not withstanding the differences in our efforts or our abilities. It is no
wonder then that we hear so often what is deserved or to what one is entitled. I guess
by this reasoning, the students who took full advantage of all the spring break bacchanalia
is apparently entitled to the same success as the conscientious disciplined classmate
who worked and studied while he played. Perhaps we should redistribute the conscientious student’s
grades to make the frolicking classmate his or her equal. I’m sure the top ten students
would love that. This leads me to wonder if the same sense
of entitlement applies to that which makes it possible for us to live in a free country.
After the constitutional convention in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin remarked when asked what
they had done that they had given us a republic if we can keep it. Nearly a century later,
in his two-minute speech at Gettysburg, President Lincoln again spoke of what was required of
us after the battle of Gettysburg. He said, “It is rather for us to be here dedicated
to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead, we take increased
devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure that we here highly
resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall
have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people
shall not perish from the earth.” Many who have gone before us have done precisely that. They have been dedicated to preserving and
enhancing our nation and the liberties upon which it is built in war and in peace. They
have made sure that those who gave the last full measure did not do so in vain. Because
you all are graduates of Hillsdale College, it is quite appropriate and quite convenient
to reflect briefly on their understanding of what was to be preserved, what to be earned.
The founders in many success of generations believed in natural rights, and that as the
declaration of independence makes clear, to establish a government by consent, they gave
up only those rights necessary to create a limited government. They then structured that
government so that it could not jeopardize the liberty that float from these inherent
or natural rights. Of course, these limitations have roots that
goes far back as the original Magna Carta over 800 years ago. Even though this liberty
is inherent, it is neither guaranteed, nor short. The very founding documents of our
country for example are an assertion of this liberty against arguably the most powerful
man in the world, and it was secured at the risk of the lives, fortunes, and sacred honor
of those who dare to assert that liberty. Over the lifespan of our great country, occasions
have arisen that require this liberty, as well as the form of government that ensures
it the defended if it was to survive. At the risk of understating what is necessary to
preserve liberty and our form of government, I think more and more that it depends on good
citizens discharging their daily duties and their daily obligations. I resist what seems to be somewhat formulaic
or standard fare at commencement exercises, some broad complaint about societal injustice
and at least one exhortation to the young graduates to go out and solve the stated problem
or otherwise to change the world. Having been where you all are, I think it is hard enough
to first solve your own problems, not to mention those problems that often seem to defy solution.
In addressing your own obligations and responsibilities in the right way, you actually help to ensure
our liberties and our form of government. Throughout my youth, even as the contradictions
of segregation persisted, we revered the ideals of our great nation. Of course we knew that
our country was like all human institutions a flawed nation, but we also knew that in
the ideal of liberty lay our last best hope. I watched with anguish as so many of the older
people in my life groped and stumbled through the darkness of illiteracy or bare literacy.
Yet, they desperately wanted to know to learn. They implicitly knew how important it was
to enjoy the fullness of citizenship of this great country. They had spent an aggregation
of lifetimes standing on the edge of that dual citizenship that is at the heart of the
14th Amendment of our constitution. Even during the last World War, they were willing to fight
for the right to die on foreign soil to defend their country even as their patriotic affections
went unreciprocated or unrequited. They returned from that horrific war with
dignity to face the indignity of discrimination at home, yet, the desire to push our nation
to live up to its stated ideals persisted. I often wondered why my grandparents remained
such model citizens even when our country’s failures were so obvious. In the arrogance
of my early adult life, I challenged my grandfather and doubted the ideals of our nation. He bluntly
asked, “So, where else would you live?” Though not a lettered man, he knew that though not
nearly perfect, our constitutional ideals were perfectable if we worked to protect them
rather than to undermine them. As he said, “Son, don’t throw the baby out
with the bath water.” That is don’t discard that which is precious along with that which
is tainted. Sadly, today, when it seems that grievances rather than personal conduct are
the means of elevation, this may sound odd or at least discordant, but those around us
back then seemed to have resolved to conduct themselves consistent with the duties that
the ideals of our country demanded. They were law-abiding, hard-working, disciplined. They
discharged their responsibilities to their families and neighbors as best they could. We were taught that despite unfair treatment,
we were to be good citizens and good people. If we were to have a functioning neighborhood,
then we had to first be good neighbors. If we were to have a good city, state, and country,
we had to first be good citizens. The same went for our school and our church. The corporal
works of mercy, the greatest commandment, “Love thy neighbor as thyself”. Just because
someone else wronged us did not justify reciprocal conduct on our part. Right was right, and
two wrongs did not make a right. As my grandfather often said, “We were duty-bound
to do the right thing to do unto others as we would have them do unto us”. In a sense,
they were teaching us that what we wanted to do did not define what was right, nor I
might add, did our capacious litany of wants define liberty, rather, what was right defined
what we were required to do and what we were permitted to do. It defined our duties and
our responsibilities. Whether those duties meant cutting our neighbor’s lawn, visiting
the sick, feeding the hungry, or in rare cases, going off to war as my brother did, we were
to honorably discharge them. Shortly before his death in 1983, I sought my grandfather’s
advice about how to whether the first wave of criticism directly toward me. I admit to having been somewhat unnerved back
then by the torrent of negativity. His immediate response was simple. “Son, you have to stand
up for what you believe in.” To him, that was my obligation and my duty. Perhaps, it
is at times like that when you lack both strength and courage that the clarity of our obligation
supplies both. Duty, honor, country. The clarity of obligation. As I admitted at the outset, I am of a different
time. I knew no one for example who was surprised when President John F. Kennedy famously said
at his inauguration in 1961, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you
can do for your country.” That sentiment was as common as saying The Pledge of Allegiance
and singing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ and as pervasive as shopping at Army Navy Surplus
stores. Today of course, there is much more focus on our rights as citizens and what we
are owed. It is not often that one hears of our obligations or our duties as citizens,
unless of course there’s talk about duty to submit to yet another new policy being suggested
or proposed. My grandfather often said that “If we didn’t
work, we didn’t eat, or if we didn’t plant, we didn’t harvest”. There was to always be
a relationship as I said earlier between our responsibilities and our benefits. In agrarian
societies, that is more obvious. As society becomes more complex and specialized, this
is more difficult to discern. Let’s look at this a different way. If you continue to run up charges on your
credit card and never make a payment, at some point, you reach your credit limit. If you
continue to make withdrawals from your savings account and make no deposits, eventually,
you deplete your funds. Why is it not the case then that if we continue to consume the
benefits of a free society without replenishing or nourishing it, we will eventually deplete
it? If we are not making deposits to deplenish our liberties, then who is? Are we content
to let others do the work, to let a few give the last full measure for liberty while we
consume the benefits? If so, perhaps one day, we will run out of other people’s sacrifice
and courage, and perhaps we will run out of courageous people wiling to make the sacrifice,
but this is Hillsdale College, and you are special, that shining city on a hill. Hillsdale is a trusty of the heritage that
finds us clear expression in the American experiment of self-government under law. The
very existence of Hillsdale connotes independence. It understands that liberty is an antecedent
of government, not a benefit from government. I offer you, graduates a few brief suggestions
to make your contributions to liberty, your deposits to the account of liberty. Today
is just the end of the beginning of your young lives, and it is the beginning, the commencement
of the rest of your lives, and hopefully their long, fruitful lives and a free country. There is much more to come, and it will not
be with the guiding hands of your parents. Perhaps your hand will be required to guide
them. Indeed, some of you won’t most assuredly be called upon to do the very hard things
to preserve liberty, perhaps even given the last full measure, but all of you will be
called upon to provide that firm foundation of citizenship by carrying out your obligations
in much the way that those around you did and so many did during my youth. You are to
be the example to others that they were to you. The greatest lecture or sermon you will
give is your example. What you do will matter far more than what
you say. As the years have swiftly moved by, I have often reflected on the important citizenship
lessons of my life. For the most part, it was the unplanned array of small things. There
was the kind gesture from the neighbor. It was my grandmother dividing our dinner because
another person showed up unannounced. It was the strangers stopping to help us get our
crops out of the field before a big storm. There were the Irish nuns who believed in
us and lived in our neighborhood. There was the librarian who brought books to mass so
that I would not be without reading materials on the farm. Small lessons such as these became
big lessons for how to live our lives. We watched and learned what it means to be a
good person, a good neighbor, or a good citizen. Who will be watching you, and what will you
be teaching them? After this commencement, I implore you to take a few minutes to thank
those who made it possible for you to come this far, your parents, your teachers, your
pastor, your coaches. You know who helped you. Take a few minutes to show your gratitude.
These are the people who have shown you how to sacrifice for those whom they love even
when that sacrifice is not always appreciated. As you go through life, try to be that person
whose actions teach others how to be better people and better citizens. Reach out to that
shy person whose not so popular. Stand up for others when they’re being treated unfairly
and small things and large. Take the time to listen to that friend who’s having a difficult
time. Do not hide your faith and your beliefs under
a bushel basket especially in this world that seems to have gone mad with political correctness.
Treat others the way you would like to be treated if you stood in their shoes. These
small lessons become the unplanned syllabus for becoming a good citizen, and your efforts
to live them will help to form the fabric of a civil society and a free and prosperous
nation where inherent equality and liberty are inviolable. You are men and women of Hillsdale
College, a school that has stood fast on its principles and its traditions at great sacrifice
and great cost. You are men and women of Hillsdale’s steeped in the best traditions and principles
of our great nation. If you don’t lead by example, who will? I
have ever faith that you will be the beacon of light for others to follow, that city on
a hill that cannot be hidden. May God bless each of you now and throughout your lives
and may God bless America. Thank you. (Applause)

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58 thoughts on “Clarence Thomas Speaks at Hillsdale College’s Commencement Ceremony”

  • Justice Thomas is a national treasure of originalist thought and a stalwart defender of our Constitution and the God given Liberties and Freedoms it protects for all Americans.

  • What a difference between this highly respected gentleman's commencement speech compared to that of obama's…

  • To Seattle U, Oh and that goes for all the other nitwits in other collages in our great Nation,
    I think you all need to be deported to South America where you can all gather rats to eat! That would be your first lesson in a socialist lifestyle living. There you would see that the rats were free you just have to catch them and eat them to survive! Then you need a lesson on how stupid you all are thinking you could pick your sex or even skin color like out of a gum machine! The trouble with you is that you had everything handed to you! I hope you fail in life! That would be another good lesson for you all! Do enjoy my curse I have given you! It is what you deserve! Spawn of Satan is that what all you seem to be!

  • Jesus said to turn the other cheek. What happens when you run out of cheeks?

    Thomas apparently didn't experience family members being lynched or burned out or robbed and cheated by the white majority. He speaks like he lived in a closed community that had no interaction with the larger community. A community that desired what his people had and used every means possible, normally illegal to acquire what they had no right to. That was and is the real world.

  • A truly great American. He is speaking directly to the young people emphasizing responsibilities, not rights and entitlements. They must contribute as citizens he says. "Following your bliss" is a platitude too often heard at these commencements. Not by this speaker. A very moving address!

  • What a difference between Justice Thomas' clear love for our country and constitution when compared to Barack Obama's race baiting political rantings that ruined the Rutgers commencement day.

  • Thanks much Hillsdale for sharing this video, and with the most superb video quality. I couldn't wait to watch it when I heard about it on the radio.

  • What a damn shame this man was not America's first black President (even though I doubt he would ever have used that as any kind of platform for self aggrandizement like Mr. Obama did).
    Obama has been a tremendous disappointment …..pretty much a continuation of the Progressive Statism of Bush and Clinton before him …..with little regard for the Constitution and the ideals of the founders of the U.S.A.

  • I wish everyone of us could listen to this wonderful speech….What a great man and what a great american..

  • This great speech by this great man only goes to reinforce how dangerously warped Obama's worldview truly is. Long live Justice Clarence Thomas and long live conservatism

  • Justice Thomas gave a true and wonderful speach about our efforts, our Labors, weaving the fabric of liberty and Freedom in our daily lives; of a civil society. He did not mention socialism, feudalism, communism, or populism. He spoke of living life and of individual charity. A life of freedoms, It may require that we give our last full measure, or not; but eventually we will give our last. Will it be for individual liberty …or will it be for something else, something less? -ljones

  • Justice Thomas' speech is the polar opposite of the crap that Barry and Mooch spew when they do these things.

  • Clarence Thomas is old fashioned and while he didn't grow up in our generation is none the less a brilliant mind with impeccable values and character. Whether you thought his speech was riveting or spoken in a boring manner, the words behind his speech are what count. He offers genuine, authentic advice which is a far cry from the nonsense we are constantly bombarded with.

  • This:

  • Racist? Hardly. You don't know me, so don't throw words around that are both false and incendiary. If all you can do is call someone names, you invalidate any arguments you might otherwise make. In my opinion, the fact that this man is occupying Thurgood Marshall's seat on the Supreme Court is an outrage and a travesty. This is MY opinion; make of it what you will.

  • He testified under oath that: 1) he never discussed Roe v Wade while at Yale Law School in 1973, 2) he never looked at porn and 3) he never discussed sex with Anita Hill, even though multiple witnesses testified that Hill complained about him and his porn talk in the early 1980s. He lied under oath. That's your hero, Hillsdale College.

  • A good speech, but pretty much average as commencement speeches go.  A lot of patriotic fluff and well wishes that has become the hallmark of most commencement speeches.  Wish he would share this voice more on the bench but suspect it is lacking for fear of being challenged.  Would love to hear his opinion of Trump if he even has one.

  • 14:47
    "There is all the difference in the world between treating people equally and attempting to make them equal."
    -F.A. Hayek

  • Do the right thing you will have a good life. You won't be ashamed of yourself,your family or country. You are an example for new generations. They sure do need one now days.

  • My God this is so beautiful. I am not a cryer by any stretch of the imagination. This speech has caused me tears because like the Declaration of Independence and constitution has touched my soul. Thank You Justice Clarence Thomas. I remember the attack on your character on national tv by the Democratic senators yet at the end of the day your stellar character won the day. Thank You so much for your service.

  • Political Correctness came to us from Communist China. Mao used it not to protect minorities from abuse, but to make everyone afraid to speak. Sadly, the Left is using PC in the exact same way.