Chief Justice John Roberts has been on the Supreme Court since 2005, but before last week I actually knew very little about him (failure on my part). But when I saw an article about his graduation address at his son Jack’s school, I knew I had to find out more, because Roberts’ words to Jack’s 9th-grade graduating class at Cardigan Mountain School were just about the BEST words I’ve ever heard—and ALL our kids need to hear them.
Cardigan is a boarding school for boys in grades 6-9, so though a 9th-grade graduation may seem odd to you or me, it’s a pretty momentous occasion for these kids—and Roberts had some extremely memorable words for them that I truly pray they ALL take to heart. From the outset, Roberts made it clear to the graduates that this would NOT be your typical graduation speech.
“Now, the commencement speakers will typically also wish you good luck and extend good wishes to you,” he said. “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.”
And with that, the Chief Justice started on rattling off a string of misfortunes he hoped his son and his classmates would suffer, for the greater good. With an almost poetic tone that reminded me of how I’d rattle off the Bible’s “Beatitudes,” Roberts said:
“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.”
Then, Roberts drove home another REALLY important point, one I hope my kids hear me say again and again:
“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.”
How wonderful would it be for all our kids to hear these words not just at special ceremonies, but regularly in their daily lives from the adults they know and trust? Misfortune WILL come to all of us…and how we RESPOND to it and what we LEARN from it will make all the difference in our lives.
You can watch Roberts’ entire speech below, and I surely hope you do so — with your kids! As I will do with my teen TODAY.
A version of this post was originally published in May 2017, and has been updated.