SHARE
Photo Courtesy: Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States
Photo Courtesy: Col­lection of the Supreme Court of the United States

United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas will address this year’s senior class in Hillsdale’s 164th com­mencement cer­emony.

The past five classes have also con­sidered Thomas, according to Senior Class Adviser John Quint ’09.

Thomas was born near Savannah, Georgia, in 1948; received an applied bac­calau­reate degree from Holy Cross College in 1971; and earned his juris doctor from Yale Uni­versity in 1974. He was nom­i­nated to the Supreme Court by George H.W. Bush and offi­cially took his post on October 23, 1991.

“I was pretty ecstatic,” senior Randy Keefe said. “I couldn’t think of someone that I would be more excited about.”

Keefe, who orig­i­nally sug­gested former Sec­retary of State Con­doleezza Rice, said he now believes Thomas is the best choice.

“Thomas was always at the top of our list,” senior class pres­ident Nick Brown said.

The selection process began at the end of the last aca­demic year, when the senior class pre­sented a refined list of can­di­dates to the president’s office.

Mike Rowe, the host of Dis­covery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs,” and Seattle Sea­hawks cor­nerback Richard Sherman were other names seniors sug­gested to give the com­mencement address.

In late Sep­tember, the senior class officers chose Thomas, and the president’s office extended Thomas the invi­tation. Thomas accepted earlier this month.

“The role of the class officers was to go to the student body to hear their thoughts and hear who they wanted to bring to bring to campus,” Brown said. “Class officers then work together with the admin­is­tration to find somebody that is going to excite stu­dents and that’s going to rep­resent the Hillsdale brand well.”

Hillsdale College Pres­ident Larry Arnn, who knows Thomas per­sonally, describes him as modest, funny, and very tal­ented.

“As a judge or justice he has written some of the most insightful opinions about the meaning of the Con­sti­tution in many decades.  I think they are serious achieve­ments,” Arnn said in an email. “In Justice Thomas we find excel­lence.”

Brown said he is con­fident Thomas can tran­scend pol­itics with his speech even in the midst of a con­tentious election year. Some past seniors have expressed frus­tration with how political some com­mencement speakers have been.

“Mostly what we heard from the senior class is that they didn’t want a politician, espe­cially in an election year,” Brown said. “While some would think of Clarence Thomas as a politician, we think he’s more than that. He’s a statesman, and he’s dealing with topics that are affecting us today.”

Senior Emily Runge said due to his position, Thomas isn’t allowed to be overtly political in his speech.

“I know that the speech is not going to be overtly political in the sense of engaging in the political topics of the day,” Runge said. “The election and current cases or leg­islative issues won’t be dis­cussed because Supreme Court Jus­tices are not allowed to talk about those.”

Senior Richard Caster said he hopes Thomas explains his dis­senting opinion in the Obergefell v. Hodges decision.

In the June 2015 decision, the Supreme Court decided 5 – 4 that gay mar­riage is con­sti­tu­tionally pro­tected the 14th Amendment and therefore cannot be denied by either the federal or state gov­ern­ments.

“I want him to talk about human dignity,” he said. “I think if you read his dissent in the gay mar­riage decision, when he talked about how no gov­ernment can remove the dignity of man and how no gov­ernment can bestow dignity upon man, I think there is such uncom­fortable truth in that that I would love for him to come here and explain those words.”

Senior Dominic Restuccia is excited as Thomas rarely gives public addresses.

“I think everyone is going to be hanging onto every word because he doesn’t speak often, so every­thing he has to say is worth lis­tening to,” Restuccia said.

Article updated Wednesday, January 27 at 11:52 PM EST.