John Charles Thomas to Give William & Mary Law School Commencement Address

  • Justice Thomas
    Justice Thomas  Well known for his inspiring oratory and poetry, Justice Thomas has long been a friend of William & Mary Law School, often visiting Williamsburg to speak with students and, as in August 2017, welcoming the incoming class of 1Ls (pictured).  Photo by David F. Morrill
Photo - of -

Former Supreme Court of Virginia Justice John Charles Thomas will deliver the commencement address at William & Mary Law School’s graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 20.

The event, which will be held in William & Mary’s Kaplan Arena at 8:00 a.m., will see the Law School award degrees to approximately 243 students in the J.D. and LL.M. programs.

“It will be a signal honor to welcome Justice John Charles Thomas to our Commencement exercises once again,” said A. Benjamin Spencer, Dean and Trustee Professor of William & Mary Law School. “A towering figure in the legal world and great friend of the Law School, Justice Thomas will bring a powerful message and good will that our graduates will take with them for the rest of their lives.”

Hailing from Norfolk, Virginia, Thomas was the first African-American and the youngest person (at age 32) to be appointed to serve on the Supreme Court of Virginia. He was a Senior Partner in the Richmond office of Hunton & Williams LLP  (now Hunton Andrews Kurth), and is a member of the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland, where he judges violations of the World Anti-Doping Code. In 1995, Thomas was awarded the NAACP Lifetime Image Award.

A 1975 graduate of the University of Virginia Law School, Thomas was named an Honorary Alumnus of William & Mary Law School in 2016, and an honorary alumnus of William & Mary in 2018. He was appointed to the William & Mary Board of Visitors in 2006 to fill an unexpired term and reappointed to two four-year terms in 2009 and 2013, making him the longest-serving Board member in modern history. He stepped down from the Board in 2017 after nearly 12 years of service.

Well known for his inspiring oratory and poetry, Thomas has long been a friend of William & Mary Law School, welcoming new classes every few years and, in 2012, saying farewell to graduates at commencement. In 2017 he kicked off the university’s school year during convocation exercises, and again in 2021. In 2013, he collaborated with William & Mary faculty members Sophia Serghi and Harris Simon for a poetry recital of original work at Carnegie Hall.

Student Bar Association President Sylvanna Gross ’23 expressed delight that Justice Thomas accepted her class’s invitation.

“Justice John Charles Thomas is an acclaimed jurist, powerful social justice pioneer, and a renowned speaker with strong ties to our community,” Gross said. “His embodiment of the citizen lawyer values is inspirational, and we are looking forward to hearing his words usher us into the next chapter of our professional careers in the law.”

Most recently, Thomas has authored “The Poetic Justice: A Memoir,” about his life leading up to becoming the first Black justice on the Supreme Court of Virginia. William & Mary President Katherine A. Rowe calls the book “a vivid tapestry—at once joyful and deeply sobering,” which teaches “what it means to come of age as a just human being.” With a foreword by former William & Mary President and Law Dean W. Taylor Reveley III, the book is available from the University of Virginia Press and

About William & Mary Law School
Thomas Jefferson founded William & Mary Law School in 1779 to train leaders for the new nation. Now in its third century, America’s first law school continues its historic mission of educating citizen lawyers who are