Justice Thomas Tells Ave Maria Law Graduates to Be Heroes

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas told graduates at Ave Maria School of Law’s May 16 commencement ceremony to be heroes to those around them and to act out of principle in pursuing their careers.

“Do it for principle rather than for prosperity. Do it for principle rather than popularity,” he told the graduates. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?”

Thomas encouraged students to never quit, even when things get tough. He said there were many times he felt like giving up throughout his career. When, as Chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, he was overwhelmed by the difficult decisions required by the job and was tempted by more lucrative opportunities in the private sector, he prayed for the wisdom to know and do what was right, he said.

Making reference to a song by Garth Brooks, Thomas said he thanked God for unanswered prayers, because if he had landed a job in his home state of Georgia as he hoped after his law school graduation instead of one in Missouri, he might not have obtained his current position on the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I had mentioned my one job offer in the Attorney General’s office in Missouri … to a fellow schoolmate who sneered at me, ‘What a waste of a Yale law degree,’” he recalled. “How could any of us know whether it was a waste or whether it was prophetic?”

Thomas reminded the graduates that their vocation in law is a calling, not an ambition. “God calls you to do something — you do it. It doesn’t mean you will like every bit of it. But when you are called, you answer the call, and you live up to the call as best you can,” he said.

Graduate Thomas Byrnes, speaking on behalf of the Class of 2004, told his classmates, “There are 35,000 new lawyers graduating this spring, but there is no other law school quite like ours. Our education has given us something valuable and unique – a connection between faith and work.”

According to Byrnes, the students learned to promote truth, justice, and human dignity at Ave Maria. In addition, they learned how ethics and morality are interwoven with the practice of law. “By our work and example, we must promote values,” said Byrnes. He predicted graduates will face significant challenges right away, including disrespect for marriage and family life.

Ave Maria School of Law opened in 2000 and has attracted students from 43 states and more than 125 colleges and universities. Members of the Law School’s first graduating class achieved a 93 percent pass rate on the July 2003 Michigan bar examination — the highest among all Michigan law schools. This year’s graduates have already accepted positions with law firms, judges, and government agencies, as well as commissions with the U.S. Army and Air Force JAG Corps. For more information on Ave Maria School of Law, visit www.avemarialaw.edu or call (734) 827-8063.

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