1558) Wishing You Bad Luck

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Chief Justice John Roberts  (1955- )

Last month United States Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the commencement address at Cardigan Mountain School, a private all-boys school in New Hampshire, where his son was graduating from the ninth grade.  In the following excerpt, Roberts wishes the boys the bad luck and troubles needed to build character and teach compassion.


            Commencement speakers will typically 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’ll 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.  Whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.

            Commencement speakers are also expected to give some advice.  They give grand advice, and they give some useful tips.  The most common grand advice they give is for you to “be yourself.”  …You should be yourself, but you should understand what that means.

            Unless you are perfect, it does not mean don’t make any changes.  In a certain sense, you should not be yourself.  You should try to become something better.  People say ‘be yourself” because they want youth resist the impulse to conform to what others want you to be.  But 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.

           The Greek philosopher Socrates said, “The unexamined life is it not worth living.”  And while “just do it” might be a good motto for some things, it’s not a good motto when trying to figure out how to live your life that is before you…  The best way to lose the values that are central to who you are is to not think about them at all.

            So that’s the deep advice.  Now some tips as you get ready to go to your new school.  Over the last couple of years, I have gotten to know many of you young men pretty well, and I know you are good guys.  But you are also privileged young men.  And if you weren’t privileged when you came here, you are privileged now because you have been here.  My advice is: Don’t act like it.

            When you get to your new school, walk up and introduce yourself to the person who is raking the leaves, shoveling the snow, or emptying the trash.  Learn their name and call them by their name during your time at the school.

            Another piece of advice: When you pass by people you don’t recognize on the walks, smile, look them in the eye, and say hello.

            The worst thing that will happen is that you will become known as the young man who smiles and says hello.


Romans 5:3b-4  —  We know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope.

James 1:2-4  —  Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

II Corinthians 12:7b-10  —  In order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.


PSALM 119:65-71:

Do good to your servant
    according to your word, Lord.
Teach me knowledge and good judgment,
    for I trust your commands.
Before I was afflicted I went astray,
    but now I obey your word.
You are good, and what you do is good;
    teach me your decrees.
Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies,
    I keep your precepts with all my heart.
Their hearts are callous and unfeeling,
    but I delight in your law.
It was good for me to be afflicted
    so that I might learn your decrees.