Education

‘You Will Need Courage': The Chief Justice’s Message to the Class of 2020

By Mark Walsh — May 25, 2020 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

U.S. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. delivered an online address for his son’s high school commencement over the weekend, telling those graduating during the coronavirus pandemic that they will be tested by a “precarious” period and that “the pandemic has pierced our illusion of certainty and control.”

“Your class is probably one of a handful of the most challenged high school graduating classes since the class of 1942, whose members went from graduation to war or to harsh work in the factories,” Roberts said in the recorded message for the online commencement of the Westminster School in Simsbury, Conn., where his son Jack was part of the graduating class.

“Today we call those graduates part of the greatest generation,” the chief justice said. “What are they going to call you? Your challenge is not as great, but it’s big. And it’s yours.” (The video of the May 23 event is here; Roberts’ remarks begin at about the 4:15 mark.)

Roberts, and his wife, Jane, have two children, Jack and Josephine. The chief justice has a knack for delivering inspirational remarks at school ceremonies for the two kids. In 2017, when Jack completed 9th grade at the Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, N.H., Roberts drew wide praise for a message that urged graduates to remain humble and remember their teachers as they advanced in their studies.

“If you weren’t privileged when you came here, you’re privileged now because you have been here,” Roberts told the graduates of the all-boys 6th-9th grade boarding school. “My advice is: Don’t act like it.”

In 2018, he was introduced as “Josie Roberts’ dad” at Josephine’s graduation from Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Md., and the chief justice urged graduates to set aside time in college “to think about what you’re learning.”

For this year’s online ceremony for graduates, Westminster Headmaster William V.N. Philip introduced Roberts as “just a current parent” but one who has visited frequently during his son’s pandemic-shortened three years on the campus.

“Graduates, do not let the extraordinary events of the past few months obscure your genuine accomplishments or cause you to overlook how fortunate you have been,” the chief justice said, sitting for his recorded message from a courtyard at the Supreme Court building. “You have enjoyed blessings not of your making. But now you’ve been thrust into a jarring and unexpected world also not of your making. The pandemic has or will affect practically everyone in the world in one way or another.”

Roberts explained that the pandemic has required the Supreme Court building to be closed to the public, but that work has continued with telephone arguments and conferences. But that has forced the justices to dispense with their tradition of shaking each others’ hands before each session.

“It’s a small gesture, but it reminds us that whatever our differences, we are united in a common calling,” Roberts said. “We of course cannot shake each other’s hand now. I look forward to the day when that tradition can be revived.”

The chief justice showed his sense of humor by noting that before the recent round of 10 arguments conducted remotely, he was asked “whether the justices participating in arguments from their homes would wear robes. I didn’t know if the person was asking judicial or bath.” (He didn’t say whether he had worn either.)

Roberts said for the class of 2020, “this graduation season is not what you anticipated. I’m not talking about missed ceremonies or parties. I’m talking about the level of uncertainty you face at this important time of transition. I think the pandemic is the world’s way of saying to mankind, ‘You’re not in charge.’”

Roberts urged graduates to focus on humility, community, and compassion.

“And of course, you will need courage,” he said. “Not the boundless courage of the heroic healthcare workers, but enough courage to live free in an uncertain world, recognizing that pandemic or no, this is your moment. Your time to begin leaving your mark on the world with a little humility, a little compassion, and a little courage. I think you’ll do just fine.”

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP