tv Justice Clarence Thomas Delivers Commencement Address at Hillsdale College CSPAN May 31, 2016 6:05am-6:36am EDT
hillsdale college in michigan, which he spoke a bit about his relationship with the late justice antonin scalia. [applause] justice thomas: thank you all. thank you. [applause] thank you. thank you. thank you all. members of the board, members of the faculty, family, friends, most of all graduates. i'm honored to be here. i am particularly honored because my bride is with me.
we spent quite a bit of time together and we like to have memories together. this is a memory. i would like to thank dr. oren for inviting me. i express my deep honor and gratitude to participate in these commencement exercises. it's been quite some years since for jenny and i have been here together. we been here on separate occasions but rarely together. of course we have known dr. larry and mrs. oren for many years. we have been quite close to hillsdale throughout his tenure. we both admire the work that is being done here to educate young man and young women.
i was fortunate to have had david morel, a hillsdale graduate, clerk for me. he was an outstanding law clerk and brilliant young man. he is also one of my daily mass companions. i had a chance last evening as dr. oren mentioned to visit with a young student who attend savanna classical academy in savannah, georgia. what a wonderful idea. as he indicated this is the same school i attended high school in the 1960's. this has been a most difficult term at court. the difficulty is underscored by the sudden and tragic passing of my colleague and friend, justice and to scalia -- justice antonin scalia. i think it is fitting to say a
few words about him, particularly here. i did not demure and a their 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. 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 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. in the years since i have attended college, 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 out of place doing this or any commencement. my words will perhaps be more of a vintage nature than current in context. words actually matter, not a current news speak. i admit to be unapologetically catholic, unapologetically patriotic, and a constitutionalist. [applause] in my youth we had a small farm. i'm convinced the time i spent there had much to do with my firm resolve to never farm again. [applause]
work seemed to spring eternal like the weeds that consumed so much of our time and lives and our efforts. one of our obligations was to take care of the land and use it to produce food for ourselves and others. if there was to be self-sufficiency or freedom, then we had to first understand, except and then discharge our responsibilities. 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 the neighborhood with drive --
thrive. whether there would be a thriving neighborhood was directly connected to our efforts and to our conduct. so there was always to our way of thinking a connection and relationship between the things we value most and our personal obligations for 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, country, no more needed to be said. but that is a guy gone era. today we rarely hear about personal responsibilities in discussions of broad notions such as freedom or liberty. it is as though freedom and liberty exist independent of anything we do. seemingly it is our version of predestination or as my grandfather often warned us, money didn't grow on trees, perhaps we think liberty grows on trees. their existence of continuing is independent of our conduct. in fact, this era is one in which any difference or different treatment is inherently suspect. we all deserve the same reward, the same status, notwithstanding the differences and efforts or 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 the spring break by -- a
canal your is entitled to the same success as a classmate who 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 10 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 remarks what they had done, that they had given us a republic if we could keep it. nearly a century later in his two-minute speech at gettysburg, president lincoln 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 to 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 not have, shall have a new birth of freedom and that this 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 poor and in peace. they have made sure those who gave the last full measure did not do so in vain. because you are graduates of hillsdale college it is appropriate and convenient to reflect briefly on the air understanding -- on their understanding of what was to be
preserved, and what has to be earned. the founders and successive generations believed in natural rights. and that 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 deliberately that flowed from these inherent or natural rights. of course these limitations have roots that go as far back as the original magna carta 800 years ago. even though this liberty is inherent, the founding documents of our country are an assertion of this liberty against the most powerful man in the world. it was secured at the risk of the lives, fortunes and sacred honor of those who do to assert that liberty.
over the life span of our great country, occasions have arisen that require this liberty as well as the form of government that ensures it be defended if it was to survive. at the risk of understanding what is necessary to preserve liberty and our form of government i think it depends on good citizens discharging their daily duties and daily obligations. i resist what seems to be somewhat formulaic or standard fare at commencement exercises. some broad complaint about societal injustice and one
extrication to the young graduates to solve the stated problem or otherwise to change the world. having been where you are all i think it is hard enough to first saw the arnold -- 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 our youth, we revere the ideas of our great nation. of course we knew that our country was like all human institutions a flawed nation. we also knew that in the idea of liberty lake 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 a literacy -- illiteracy. they desperately wanted to learn. they 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 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 at their patriotic affections went and reciprocated or unrequited. they return 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 persist did -- persisted. i wonder why my grandparents remained ideal citizens. and the arrogance of my early adult life i challenge my grandfather and doubted the ideals of our nation. he bluntly asked so? where else would you live? he knew that though not nearly perfect our constitutional ideals were perfectible if we worked to protect them rather than to undermine them. as he said, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.
that is, don't discard that which is precious along with that which is tainted. sadly, today when it seems grievances rather than personal conduct are the means of elevation, this may sound odd or at least discordant. 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, disciplines. they discharge their responsibilities to their families and neighbors as best they could. we were taught despite unfair treatment, we were to be good citizens and good people. if we were to have a functioning neighborhood, we had to first to be good neighbors.
and if we were to have a good city, state and country, we had to first the good citizens. the same went for our school and our church. the corporal works of mercy. love thy neighbor as thyself. just because someone else wrong dust, did -- wronged us did not bring reciprocal conduct on our part. two wrongs did not make a right. as my grandfather often said we were duty-bound to do the right thing, to do onto others as we would have them do onto us. they were teaching us that what we wanted to do did not define what was right. nor i might add that our litany of wants to find liberty. 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 that cutting our neighbors lawn, visiting the sick, feeding the hungry or in rare cases going off to war as my brother did, we were to honorably discharged them. shortly before his death in 1983 i saw my grandfather's advice about how to whether the first wave of criticism directed toward me. i admit to having been somewhat
unnerved back then by the torrent of negativity. his immediate response was simple. 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 obligations 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 asked 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, as pervasive as shopping at army navy surplus stores. today there is more focused on our rights as citizens and what we are owed. it is not often one hears of our obligations or duties as citizens. unless of course there is talk of our duty to submit to another new policy being suggested. my grandfather often said if we didn't work we did meet. -- didn't eat, or if we didn't plant we didn't harvest. there should always be a relationship between our responsibilities and are benefits. an agrarian society, that is more obvious.
as society becomes more complex we and specialized this is more difficult to discern. let's look at this a different way. if you run up charges on your credit card and never make a payment, at some point you reach your 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, 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 peoples sacrifice and courage and perhaps we will run out of courageous people willing to make the sacrifice. but, this is hillsdale college area you are special. that shining city on a hill. hillsdale is a heritage that finds its clearest expression in the american experiment of self-government under law. the very existence of hillsdale connotes independence. it understands liberty is an antecedent of government, not a benefit from government. not a benefit from government.
i offer you 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 there long fruitful lives in a fun country. -- in a free country. there is much more to come. perhaps you will be required to guide them. indeed, some of you will most assuredly be called upon to do the very hard things, be serve -- preserve liberty. perhaps even give 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 best example to others that they were to you. the greatest lecture or sermon who 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 importance of citizenship lessons of my life. for the most part it was the unplanned array of 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 get our crops out of the field before a big storm. they were the irish nuns who believed in us and lived in our neighborhood. there was the librarian who brought books to smooch that i i wouldrought books so not be without reading materials on the farm. small lessons such as these became a big lesson for how we lived our lives. we watched and learned what it meant 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 past coaches. you know who helped you. take a few minutes just to show your gratitude. these are the people who have shown you how to act. for 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 person who's not popular. stand up for others when they're being treated unfairly. in small things and large. take the time to listen to that friend who is having a difficult time. and yourde your face
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 will hope to form the fabric of a civil society and a big and -- and a free and prosperous equalityere inherent and liberty are inviolable. you are men and women of hillsdale college. a school that has stood fast on and traditions at great sacrifice and cost. you are men and women of
hillsdale stepped in the best the bestd in traditions and principles of our great nation. example, not lead by who will? you will be the flight for others to follow, that city on the hill. may god bless each of you now and throughout your lives. and may god bless america, thank you. \[applause] >> our commencement special 2016nues, looking at 20 -- commencement speakers. we are joined by the president of hillsdale college in michigan, president since 2000.