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Justice Clarence Thomas to College Graduates: It is Better to Aim to Be ‘Good Citizens’ Than to Chase After Lofty Ambition


"I think it is hard enough for you to solve your own problems, not to mention those problems that often seem to defy solution."

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas a commencement message Saturday at Hillsdale College, a conservative liberal arts school in Michigan.

Justice Thomas insisted that graduating students who wish to "preserve liberty" should aim to do so by being “good citizens” who complete the duties that accompany their daily vocations, rather than chasing after lofty political goals.

Image source: YouTube / Hillsdale College

"At the risk of understating what is necessary to preserve liberty in our form of government, I think more and more that it depends on good citizens, discharging their daily duties in their daily obligations," Thomas said.

Thomas expressed sadness regarding the modern state of higher education. He described the tendency at colleges and universities to take pride in having "grievances rather than personal conduct" and to focus on individual rights as citizens, rather than responsibilities.

In other words, because of the direction in which society has moved, it is easier than ever before for someone to claim victimhood, and it is harder than ever to hold individuals for the ways in which they contribute to their own problems.

"Hallmarks of my youth such as patriotism and religion seem more like outliers, if not afterthoughts," Thomas continued, adding, “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.”

Thomas included a personal reflection on how the late Justice Antonin Scalia, a fellow Conservative and man of faith, showed him kindness "when it mattered most,” referring to his confirmation to the Supreme Court after the Anita Hill controversy.

Hillsdale, a rare institution that combines liberal learning with Conservative American values, has an outpost in Washington, D.C., which Thomas’s wife Ginni Thomas helped found when she was an associate vice president at the school.

hillsdale college Buildings on Hillsdale Collge's campus in Hillsdale, Michigan. (Image source: Wikimedia)

Students who graduate from the college are typically favorable candidates for strategic jobs at large political and legal organizations. Knowing this, Thomas urged his audience not to prioritize trying to "change the world" over more modest roles:

I resist what seems to be some 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 are, I think it is hard enough for you to 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 liberty and our form of government.

Thomas recalled some valuable advice he’d received from his grandfather, who always encouraged him to revere "duty, honor [and] country,” even though he grew up in racially segregated society.

"He knew that though not nearly perfect, our constitutional ideals were perfectible if we worked to protect them rather than to undermine them," the justice said of his grandfather. "Don't discard that which is precious along with that which is tainted."

Thomas concluded his address by telling the graduates to thank their families and professors.

"As you go through life, try to be that person whose actions teach others how to be better people and better citizens," he said.

Watch Justice Thomas's entire speech here:

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