The Chief's wise words to the young

  • 12 July 2017
  • NormanL
The Chief's wise words to the young

Celebrity graduation speeches are often surprisingly dull affairs that fade from memory shortly after they are delivered. That should not be the case with a speech Chief Justice John Roberts recently gave at his son's graduation ceremony. It isn't a gauzy, feel-good collection of bullet points. Instead, it is an essay on character and virtue. From the text:

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.

Now commencement speakers are also expected to give some advice. They give grand advice, and they give some useful tips. The most common grand advice they give is for you to be yourself. It is an odd piece of advice to give people dressed identically, but you should — you should be yourself. But you should understand what that means. Unless you are perfect, it does not mean don’t make any changes. In a certain sense, you should not be yourself. You should try to become something better. People say ‘be yourself’ because they want you to resist the impulse to conform to what others want you to be. But you can’t be yourself if you don't learn who are, and you can’t learn who you are unless you think about it.

We do not always agree with Justice Roberts' views on the law, but we can certainly agree with his words here. We too often try to shield our children and grandchildren from life's pitfalls. That's only natural -- we love them and pray for their happiness and success.

But too often, our sheltering instinct gets in the way of the larger lessons life's difficulties can teach. Failure and disappointment are constants, and unavoidable. It's how we turn those setbacks into successes that makes us better people. Here's hoping graduates everywhere take the Chief's words to heart.