Garland encourages grads to focus outward

  • Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland addresses the graduating seniors at Niles West High School Sunday.

    Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland addresses the graduating seniors at Niles West High School Sunday. Rob Dicker for the Daily Herald

Updated 5/29/2016 5:07 PM

As he addressed graduates at Niles West High School Sunday, Merrick Garland remembered a different world when he spoke on the same football field as valedictorian in 1970.

"Ernie Banks had just hit his 500th home run, the electric typewriter was cutting edge technology and Paul McCartney was about the same age as Taylor Swift is today," he said.


Garland spoke in glowing terms of his past, peppering his speech with references to high school friends and erstwhile teachers, some of whom returned to hear the Supreme Court nominee's speech.

"Several of my closest friends today were my closest friends at Niles West, and my best friend was my best friend at Niles West," he said, at one

point briefly donning a baseball cap as he referred to his Little League days.

But if he lingered on the past, it was largely to emphasize the common bond shared between him and the approximately 650 graduates facing an uncertain future, even as Garland himself faces an uncertain confirmation process for Supreme Court justice.

But the chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit didn't mention his current situation.

He alluded only briefly to judicial matters when he spoke about his decision to make law a career, "specifically a career devoted to building the kind of faith in the rule of law that civil society depends on."

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As a judge that meant "showing litigants that the courts will decide their cases fairly and impartially, looking only to the law and not to our personal preferences."

Mostly, Garland urged the students to maintain their connection to community, family and friends, so that when faced with bad times or hard decisions, they won't have to face them alone.

Likewise, he urged them to devote themselves to public service, saying his most rewarding experiences have not been with high-profile cases or legal disputes but in tutoring students in reading and math at an elementary school in Washington, D.C.

"When you are facing the unanticipated twists and turns that life will surely take, when the bad things happen, it can be a tremendous solace to get outside of yourself and focus on someone else. So, instead of taking a selfie, turn the camera around -- you, know, the way we used to take pictures. You will have a much more fulfilling life by turning your focus outward to helping others."


His message of focusing outward resonated with Thea Gonzales, the class speaker of 2016, who sat near him on the reviewing stand throughout the ceremony.

Gonzales, 17, of Skokie, who will be attending Augustana College in Rock Island, said of the speech, "It made me feel like he knew who we were. He knew where we were coming from. He came from the same place himself."

She said it was "a nice surprise" that he didn't talk about the nomination, "because it showed that he cared more about the school and where the school was going."

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