William and Mary Law School

Former Va. Justice to Speak at Law School's Graduation

  • Inspiring Words to Law Students
    Inspiring Words to Law Students
    Former Va. Justice John Charles Thomas, at podium, had inspiring words for the J.D. Class of 2012 at their August 2009 orientation. W&M President Taylor Reveley, at left, led students in taking the Honor Code Oath.
    Photo by Jaime Welch-Donahue
Former Supreme Court of Virginia Justice John Charles Thomas will deliver the commencement address at William & Mary Law School's graduation ceremony on Sunday, May 13. Thomas served on the Commonwealth's highest court from 1983 to 1989. He is a senior partner in the Richmond office of Hunton & Williams and is a member of William & Mary's Board of Visitors.

The Law School ceremony, which will be held at Lake Matoaka Amphitheatre, begins at 2:30 p.m. Degrees will be awarded to approximately 240 students in the J.D. and LL.M. programs. Seating will be limited to graduates and their guests.

2011-12 Student Bar Association President Jay Sinha '12 said that his classmates asked Thomas to speak because of his dedication to public service and added that the former justice gave a memorable speech at his class's first-year orientation. "Justice Thomas is the epitome of the citizen lawyer we all aspire to be," Sinha said. "He serves his community in a way unlike any other civic leader we've encountered.  His strong words on our first day of classes still resonate with us, and we were fortunate that he was willing to bring our law school experience to a close."

Thomas received a B.A. (with distinction) in 1972 and a J.D. in 1975 from the University of Virginia. He was a partner at Hunton & Williams when he was appointed to the Supreme Court of Virginia. At age 32, he was the youngest person ever to serve on the court and the court's first African-American justice. He ruled on thousands of appellate matters during his nearly seven-year tenure.

After stepping down from the bench, Thomas returned to practice at Hunton & Williams, where he is chief of the appellate practice group. He is a member of the College of William & Mary's Board of Visitors, vice chair of the board of the Virginia Capitol Foundation, and a trustee of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which is dedicated to the preservation of Monticello and its educational mission.

In 2009, in his remarks to the class during their 1L orientation, Thomas shared what he learned about the law in his almost forty years of study and practice.

"The law is about the struggle of people to be free," he said. He stressed that the law is shaped by the intentions of those who practice it, and urged the class to use what they would learn during law school to advance the causes of justice and equality.

"If you bring hate to the law, the law is going to be a tool for hatred," Thomas said. "If you bring violence to the law, the law is going to be a tool for violence. ... But if you want to heal with the law, if you want to unite with the law, if you want to harmonize with the law, the law will do those things as well, because it is all about you."