May and June are the months when most American colleges and universities hold their commencements. These ceremonies are a time for family and friends to gather and celebrate a student’s completion of an academic degree. One by one, the students’ names are called. They go to the front, shake hands with school officials and receive a document of some kind. But first they must they sit and listen to a speech delivered by a famous guest who may be a distinguished alumni. Most of these speeches are quite predictable, even staid. This is where the following speech stands out by departing from the norm. The speech was delivered by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in 2017 on his son’s graduation from Cardigan Mountain School in New Hampshire, a school for boys in grades six through nine. Read his speech below and see why it is so special.
Chief Justice John Roberts’ Commencement Speech
Now the commencement speakers will typically also wish you good luck and extend good wishes to you. I will not do that, and I’ll tell you why. From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted.
I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.
The rest of his speech touch on the importance of humility and caring for others …
I have gotten to know many of you young men pretty well, and I know you are good guys. But you are also privileged young men. And if you weren’t privileged when you came here, you are privileged now because you have been here. My advice is: Don’t act like it. When you get to your new school, walk up and introduce yourself to the person who is raking the leaves, shoveling the snow or emptying the trash. Learn their name and call them by their name during your time at the school. Another piece of advice: When you pass by people you don’t recognize on the walks, smile, look them in the eye and say hello.
The last bit of advice I’ll give you is very simple, but I think it could make a big difference in your life. Once a week, you should write a note to someone. Not an email. A note on a piece of paper. It will take you exactly 10 minutes. Talk to an adult, let them tell you what a stamp is. You can put the stamp on the envelope. Again, 10 minutes, once a week. By the end of the school year, you will have sent notes to 40 people. Forty people will feel a little more special because you did, and they will think you are very special because of what you did.