Nati Harnik, Associated Press
LINCOLN, Neb. — Family, faith and friends will matter more over the course of a person's lifetime than superficial illusions of success, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas told 129 new University of Nebraska law school graduates Saturday.
Thomas spoke candidly about his struggles as a student and his difficulty and disillusionment in finding a job after graduating from Yale Law School nearly four decades ago.
"I certainly remember what it took for me to get this far. It was a lot," he told a crowd of more than 3,000 attending the commencement. "The day I graduated from law school was the best day of my formal education. Not because it was so spectacular, but because it was the last day. I found school to be very, very difficult and very challenging and somewhat frightening."
His attempts to get a job at a law firm resulted in numerous rejection letters, stirring anxiety in the future justice who had a young child at the time and staggering student loans. His lone job offer came from the state Missouri attorney general for meager pay and a long distance from his hometown of Savannah, Ga.
"Getting on the bottom rung would have been enough for me, but I couldn't even do that," Thomas said. "But I got to sit where you are today with that solitary job offer as my tenuous lifeline to that glimmer of hope. Little did I know what was in store for me."
The new graduates should think often of those people who have sacrificed and supported them in their lives, Thomas said, recalling that he had given too much weight to those who were not supportive of him early in his career.
"As will be the case for each of you, the people who really mattered were supportive," he said. "But many others were not the least bit encouraging, and some even chose to pour salt in the wounds of disappointment and despair. Whether it was those who looked at me with pity, or those who assured me that my one job offer was a waste of a Yale Law School education, many were just plain unhelpful, unsupportive and mean."
Thomas, one of the most conservative voices on the Supreme Court, avoided discussing matters of law. He also did not speak of the hardships he faced during his 1991 confirmation hearings for his U.S. Supreme Court seat, when former employee Anita Hill accused him of sexually harassing her.
Thomas has adamantly denied Hill's accusations that he made inappropriate sexual remarks. The allegations nearly derailed his nomination and sparked a national debate about sexual harassment on the job.
The justice's wife, Omaha native Virginia Lamp Thomas, was in the crowd Saturday.
"She's the love of my life. Anything we do together is twice as good," Thomas said.
Virginia Thomas' political activism, ties to the tea party movement and strong criticism of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul have drawn criticism. Some have called for her husband to sit out the expected high court fight over the health care law because of his wife's public criticism of it.
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