“I Wish You Bad Luck” What Parents Can Learn From a Supreme Court Justice’s Commencement Speech

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I typically find most commencement speeches cliché ridden and filled with flawed and superficial advice. But on June 3, 2017, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts delivered an admirably unconventional commencement speech for his son’s 9th-grade graduating class at Cardigan Mountain School. 

As good as the speech was for the students, I wish every parent in America would listen to it. After talking to and counseling parents and young adults for over thirty years, one thing that seems abundantly clear to me is that parents hyper-coddling and over-protecting children is counterproductive. 

Parents today often see their role as removing all the difficulty they can from their children’s lives. They never want to see them struggle or face discomfort, and they attempt to rescue their children from all hardship. Often, they defend them and make excuses for them no matter what they do. 

In what should surprise no one who thinks about it for a few minutes, children who are coddled through their formative years become young adults who lack resilience and are often riddled with anxiety because they cannot handle the routine adversities of life. 

Over-providing stuff, screen time, social media access, distraction, excuses, and comforts while under-providing hands-on direction, correction, responsibility, challenges, and difficulty is a recipe for an ill-equipped, entitled, and discontented young adult.

Chief Justice Roberts understands and provides a helpful and sober-minded set of hopes for his son and fellow graduates (I bullet-pointed each of his hopes for them):

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.

I pray the students have embraced Chief Justice Roberts’s hopes for them, and beyond that, I pray that parents will embrace their wisdom. Affectionate authority is a must, as is loving them enough to teach them reality and prepare them for adulthood. 

Raising fragile kids and sending them into a fallen and hostile world is a cruel trick. In Acts 14:22, Paul was “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” As Christian parents, we must do no less. 

By |June 6th, 2024|Categories: Blog, Featured|

About the Author:

David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky and assistant professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of In the Arena and Church with Jesus as the Hero. He blogs at Prince on Preaching and frequently writes for The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, For the Church, the BGEA and Preaching Today

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