Associate Justice of the Supreme Court
Clarence Thomas Spoke at Hillsdale College
on Saturday | Courtesy External Affairs
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Clarence Thomas told the Hillsdale College Class of 2016 that to save America, graduating seniors need to do their civic duty, fulfill their responsibilities, and act as American patriots, describing patriotism and religion as “outliers” when he spoke at the college’s 164th commencement ceremony Saturday.
“Do not hide your faith under a bushel basket,” Thomas said. “This has been a most difficult term for the court. Things that were once constitutionally firm have long since lost their vitality. Patriotism and religion feel like outliers.”
Thomas said he felt “woefully out of place” at a commencement since he stands for conservative values in a nation that no longer considers such values to be important or significant. He began with a tribute to the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, whom he described as “the first man I could instinctively trust on the court” and “a man of his word” before warning his audience that they will not be able to keep their freedom if they do not live rightly or responsibly.
“Some of you will be called to do very hard things, but all of you will be called to do your duties and obligations,” Thomas said. “The greatest lecture or sermon you’ll ever give is your example.”
American citizens possess inherent natural rights, Thomas said, but if they don’t fulfill their responsibilities, they cannot be free. Growing up on a farm taught Thomas that benefits only come when you accept responsibility — if you don’t diligently care for crops, you don’t eat. In the same way, if citizens do not do the right thing and live responsibly, they can not preserve a free government.
“Even though this liberty is inherent, it is neither guaranteed nor assured,” Thomas said. “To preserve our government, I think more and more it requires good citizens who do their duty and responsibility.”
President Larry P. Arnn introduced Thomas as “the greatest public servant I know,” and told the Collegian that Hillsdale College is “profoundly grateful to him.”
“Not many people have the knowledge and character to speak so well on that occasion,” Arnn told the Collegian. “Justice Thomas has them to the highest degree, and he demonstrated them beautifully.”
Class of 2015 graduate Casey McKee attended the ceremony and described Thomas as earnest and impressive.
“I was impressed with how real his story was and how living well is an individual as well as a communal responsibility,” McKee said. “I was impressed how he used examples from his own personal life to illustrate — they were very moving and profound. He made good connections to graduating seniors for living well.”
Thomas called himself “unapologetically Catholic, unapologetically a patriot, and unapologetically a Constitutionalist” and urged graduates not to be afraid to live according to their convictions.
“Do not hide your faith under a bushel basket, especially in this world that has seemed to have gone mad with political correctness,” he said. “This is Hillsdale College, a shining city on a hill. If you don’t lead by example, then who will?”