Merrick Garland's Advice To 5th Graders: 'Be The Brave One' | WBEZ
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Merrick Garland's Advice To 5th Graders: 'Be The Brave One'

Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland finally got a hearing in Washington on Wednesday. Not from the U.S. Senate, but from the fifth grade graduating class at the J.O. Wilson Elementary School, where Garland has tutored students for 18 years.

His testimony, as it were, was in the form of a commencement address, and he was almost as emotional as he was at the White House when he was nominated for a seat on the Supreme Court.

"You know, I like my job, but my favorite days are when I come to J.O. Wilson, and get high fives walking down the hall," he began.

"I know your parents and teachers are getting a little teary today," he told the children, eyes welling. "And I know that because ... I'm getting a little teary too."

Garland's message to the class was: don't be afraid of the next challenge: middle school. It can be your home just as much as J.O. Wilson has been. But you have to look out for your friends.

"Don't follow the crowd in the wrong direction," the Supreme Court nominee said. "You be the brave one. Lead you friends in the right direction. Don't let them make bad choices."

He noted that the theme of the graduation was, "If you can dream it, you can do it!" But, he added, there is an important step in between: "Hard work."

"When you watch Steph Curry glide down the basketball court, and Beyoncé dance across the stage, it sure looks easy," he observed. "But every step is a result of hours and hours of practice, discipline, and determination."

The ceremony was at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, where the school has held graduations before as a mark of how special the day is. The boys sported white shirts and dark ties, the girls white dresses, white shoes, and hair decorations that ranged from white ribbons to sparkly crowns.

It's a toss-up who was more excited, the children or the teachers.

As Principal Heidi Haggerty put it, at the beginning of the year, it looked as though some students might not be able to graduate. But every child in the fifth grade class made it, and the occasion was celebrated with all the fervor of a college commencement: red and white balloons, a huge rotating slide show at the back of the stage, countless awards for achievement in everything from reading and math, to poetry, and even "most improved."

Garland arrived without White House handlers, just a couple of guards. He hugged teachers and chatted with them while parents, some dressed to the nines, others clearly coming from work and still in various uniforms, rushed in. The parents of Jenifer Morales-Garcia, one of the two students in this class who was tutored by Garland, brought the whole family, including grandma and their nine-month-old baby who, remarkably, fell sound asleep.

Morales-Garcia and the other student Garland has been tutoring for the last few years, Vernell Garvin, both won academic awards on Wednesday. Morales-Garcia said that after she watched a video of Garland's nomination ceremony, she was "excited," and asked him about it. She said her tutor told her he was waiting to see if he would be "accepted."

Judge Garland has been coming to this school in a tough neighborhood of D.C. every other Monday for nearly two decades, and he requires his law clerks to do volunteer work here, too.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit NPR.

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