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Video: Supreme Court Chief Justice Gives Commencement Address at Cardigan Mountain School

  • As seen on a YouTube posting, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts speaks at the Cardigan Mountain School commencement in Canaan, N.H., on June 3, 2017.



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Canaan — Chief Justice John Roberts wished a class of ninth-grade boys a solid dose of adversity in life, danced around the topic of teenage hormones and even quoted Bob Dylan in a graduation speech at a private boarding school earlier this month.

Speaking at the June 3 commencement of Cardigan Mountain School, Roberts said hardships in life were both inevitable and important for building character, so he would eschew any convention of wishing them good luck in the future.

“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,” Roberts said in the speech, which was posted on the Canaan-based school’s YouTube page last week.

“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 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 will be ignored, so you know the importance of listening to others. And I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion.”

The 62-year-old Roberts, whose son Jack was among the graduates, explained why he was addressing them in such a manner.

“Whether I wish these things or not, they are going to happen, and whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes,” he said.

Cardigan Mountain includes boys in grades six to nine, and Roberts also paid homage to its international students, speaking briefly in at least two other languages, including Spanish.

Addressing the graduating class of 62 boys, all clad in white Cardigan Mountain blazers, Roberts noted that the most common graduation advice is “for you to be yourself,” but reflected “it is an odd piece of advice to give people dressed identically, but you should be yourself, but you should understand what that means.”

“You can’t be yourself if you don’t learn who you are, and you can’t learn who you are unless you think about it,” he said.

Tuition next school year at Cardigan Mountain School will be more than $58,000 for boarding students — the school also has some day students — and Roberts told the boys, “I know you are good guys, but you are also privileged young men … my advice is don’t act like it.”

Roberts encouraged the boys to introduce themselves and learn the names of the people raking leaves, shoveling snow or emptying the trash at their new schools, to greet passersby with a smile, and to write a note a week to former instructors at Cardigan, thanking them for teaching them.

“It will mean a great deal to people who, for reasons most of us cannot contemplate, have dedicated themselves to teaching middle school boys,” Roberts said, drawing laughter.

“You have been at a school with just boys. Most of you will be going to a school with girls,” said Roberts, who is known for his wry, pointed humor in his legal opinions. “I have no advice for you.”

The line drew the loudest laughter of the day.

Roberts also grew nostalgic when he concluded his 12-minute speech by quoting lyrics from Forever Young, which Dylan wrote in the early 1970s for his son Jesse.

“May God bless you and keep you always, may your wishes all come true. May you always do for others, and let others do for you,” Roberts recited. “May you build a ladder to the stars and climb to every rung, and may you stay, forever young.”

In introducing Roberts, Cardigan Head of School Christopher Day said he and his wife, Cynthia, earlier this spring had visited Roberts in his private Supreme Court chambers, to be told by the chief justice that they were sitting on the worn leather davenport upon which John Quincy Adams died.

Day, a history teacher and a “bit of a Supreme Court junkie,” said that he had asked Roberts how he handled the “awesome responsibilities” of his office.

“ ‘I feel like I’m holding the reins of a horse,’ ” he said. “ ‘I dare not pull on them too hard, because I might discover that they aren’t attached to anything,’ ” Day recalled.

Day said Roberts’ response was “such an insightful appreciation” into the “delicate but precise juridical dance that the chief justice and his colleagues negotiate.”

Day also told the graduates that they would find their diplomas to be thicker than normal, because tucked into each was a pocket-sized edition of the U.S. Constitution, personally signed by Roberts.

“I urge you to read it, and I know that this will be a keepsake that you will cherish for the rest of your lives,” Day told the students. “Fellas, this stuff doesn’t happen. Enjoy it.”

John P. Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com or 603-727-3217.

Clarification

This story has been updated to reflect tuition for boarding students in 2017-18.