|Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor
addresses Centre graduates
Described by some commentators as America's most powerful woman
RELEASED: May 23, 2004
DANVILLE, KYU.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor called on Centre graduates to be "bridge builders" of the future as she addressed the class during the College's 181st commencement on Sunday.
"[Building bridges is] the task in which Centre College and your professors have been engaged while you were here," she said. "I'm confident they succeeded and that you graduates will cross the bridges they've built for youand perhaps build some of your own in the future."
O'Connor had high praise for two Centre graduates who served on the Supreme Court. Fred Vinson, Class of 1909, served as the Chief Justice from 1945 until his death in 1953. John Marshall Harlan, Class of 1850, served as an associate justice on the court for almost 34 years. Harlan is widely regarded as one of the court's most distinguished justices and is known for his early stand in favor of civil rights for African-Americans.
"Centre College graduates have a proud tradition of public service and dedication to the good of the nation," O'Connor said referring to Vinson and Harlan. "Each left an enduring mark [on the Supreme Court]. They were two of the key architects of a special kind of bridge. That was the bridge to what some people called the most important decision of the modern Supreme CourtBrown v. Board of Education."
Rachel Bressman, a senior from Nashville, Tenn., who graduated with a double major in English and art history, was impressed with O'Connor's speech.
"I thought she did a great job," she said. "I enjoyed how she connected Centre to the Supreme Court. It showed that Centre graduates do play big roles."
Nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, O'Connor was the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court. Sunday's visit was her second to Centre. "I love coming here," she said.
O'Connor received an honorary degree as did Edward Farley '51, the Drucilla Moore Buffington Professor Emeritus of Theology at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, and Lino Tagliapietra, an acclaimed Venetian glass artist. Farley delivered the keynote address to the senior class during a morning baccalaureate service.
Two-hundred and fifty-six seniors received degrees, making it the College's largest graduating class. Valedictorian prizes were presented to Chris Henley and Sarah Hermann. Henley, of Lexington, Ky., received the George Winston Welsh Valedictorian Prize as the top male graduate and will attend medical school at the University of Louisville. Hermann, of Louisville, Ky., received the Gavin Easton Wiseman Valedictorian Prize as the top female graduate. She will attend Northwestern for a graduate degree in English.
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