Skip to comments.Be heroes, not victims, Justice Thomas tells UGA grads (Gets standing O)
Posted on 05/18/2003 10:32:51 PM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas told University of Georgia Law School graduates to become heroes, not victims, in a commencement speech Saturday that touched on his own challenges as a young lawyer.
Thomas said that after graduating from Yale Law School in 1974, he faced an uphill battle finding work in the South.
"I was rejected by every law firm in Atlanta. . . . I watched my dream of going back to Savannah evaporate," he told the crowd gathered at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens. "It didn't seem to matter that I had tried so hard."
Thomas said he took the only job offered to him -- an assistant Missouri attorney general position in Jefferson City.
He urged the 230 graduates not to allow themselves to become victims -- despite the "trials and tribulations" they might face.
"Today as the fabric of society is saturated with complaint and protest, each of you has the opportunity to be a hero," he said. "Do what you know must be done."
While Thomas got a standing ovation inside the building, outside, a handful of students from the University of Michigan held up red signs protesting Thomas' appearance. The students, part of a youth action group for civil rights, are traveling around the country demonstrating at events where justices speak. The Supreme Court is still deliberating a decision in the university's landmark affirmative action case.
"We want them to know that we are holding them accountable," said Neal Lyons, 22.
Nearby, about 20 UGA students and faculty gathered at the student center to hear law professor Donald Wilkes deliver a counterspeech attacking Thomas' record on human rights, saying that his opinions on civil liberties and affirmative action were too extreme to allow him the honor of speaking at graduation.
Wilkes also complained that faculty and students were not involved in the decision to bring Thomas to UGA.
Despite the small protests, UGA Law School Dean David Shipley said the graduation ceremony "went off without a hitch."
"We had a completely normal turnout," he said.
Thomas, known as a quiet justice who rarely speaks or asks a question on the bench, was "very much the opposite" in person, Shipley said.
"He was just as outgoing and gracious as could be," Shipley said. "He was a wonderful guest."
Law school graduate Rebecca Wasserman, 27, said while some of her classmates were not thrilled with Thomas' selection as commencement speaker, she didn't have a problem with the choice.
"Whether or not you agree with his decisions, he is still a Supreme Court justice and this is an honor," the Decatur native said. "We're lawyers; we should get used to hearing different points of view."
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