Commencement speaker: ‘I wish you bad luck’

John Roberts

Chief Justice John Roberts gave a commencement speech this year to his son’s graduating class at the Cardigan Mountain School, a boarding school in New Hampshire for boys in grades six through nine.

The following part was striking:

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.

Source: Marginal REVOLUTION

Bad luck, injustice, betrayal, loneliness and pain are learning experiences for those who have sympathy for other people to begin with.

For those who lack sympathy, such experiences can be excuses for lifelong resentment and for doing unto others the worst that has been done unto you.

Justice Roberts was right to tell the boys that these experiences are common and to advise them to see messages in their misfortunes.

I don’t think that someone in his position and with his background would have the right to give patronizing advice to people who have suffered extreme misfortune—refugees, the homeless, the generational poor.

Someone who has been a refugee, lost their home or been raised in poverty themselves might have that right, but Roberts doesn’t.

But his advice was highly appropriate to boys privileged enough to attend a private boy’s boarding school.   This is a background that can cut you off from empathy for those outside your own little circle.


Transcript of Justice John Roberts’ commencement speech to Cardigan Mountain School.  The whole thing is worth reading.

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3 Responses to “Commencement speaker: ‘I wish you bad luck’”

  1. ashiftinconsciousness Says:

    Well put.


  2. Edward Says:

    Good speech from someone who has ironically been a reactionary defender of privilege Those lessons don’t seem much in evidence for Mr. Roberts.


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