College reveals 2024 Commencement speaker: Judge John Charles Thomas, first African American, youngest appointee on Virginia Supreme Court


Tuesday, March 19, the College of William and Mary announced that Judge John Charles Thomas, the first African American and youngest-ever appointee on the Supreme Court of Virginia, will speak at the College’s Commencement ceremony for the class of 2024. 

Thomas will deliver the 2024 Commencement address at 7 p.m. in Zable Stadium May 17, where he will receive an honorary degree at the event. Thomas was previously named an honorary alumnus of the William and Mary Law School in 2016 and an honorary alumnus of the College in 2018. He has received many other accolades from the College throughout the years. 

“A dear friend to this university, Judge Thomas has called William & Mary students to ‘be magnificent builders in your whole lives.’ He models that type of leadership with his own life. His accomplishments are built on cornerstones of integrity, excellence, service and belonging,” President Katherine A. Rowe said in a press release provided by Erin Jay, Senior Associate Director of University News. 

Thomas previously spoke at the 2021 Convocation ceremony, which the class of 2024 attended in-person since their initial ceremony was virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He was also a former board of visitors member for the College for nearly 12 years.  

“We have great hopes at the start of this academic year for what you will become. What we are trying to do is to ignite within you the burning desire to learn — and keep learning — to push for fairness, justice, and equity. And then to share the light that is within you,” Thomas said in his opening Convocation speech. 

He is also connected to the College’s 2024 theme of the “Year of the Arts” due to his extensive experience as a poet.

“In the spirit of the ampersand, members of the William & Mary community are known for their ability to excel in a wide range of pursuits. Judge John Charles Thomas exemplifies that breadth of interest and accomplishment as a barrier-breaking former Virginia Supreme Court justice and a celebrated poet,” the College stated in the press release. 

Thomas received the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Lifetime Image Award in 1995 and was the first African American attorney at Hunton Williams Kurth — formerly Hunton, Williams, Gay & Gibson, a Richmond law firm. 

“I did not know what to expect,” Thomas said in the press release. “We were not many years from the searing violence that scarred the nation during the days of the Civil Rights Movement. The Selma march, King’s assassination, riots in the streets of major cities — all were within recent memory, so it was a major step to be the first Black lawyer at Hunton & Williams. I saw it as part of the integration of our society.”


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