"We Didn't Know He Was Clarence Thomas"

High school students share a plane ride, invite him to graduation

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Justice Thomas -- who otherwise never misses court -- skipped a SCOTUS session to speak at the graduation of his travel companions.

    High school seniors Terrence Stephens and Jason Ankrah, star football players at Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg, Md., were sitting on a plane returning from a recruitment session at the University of Nebraska when they struck up a conversation with the man sitting next to them.

    Their seat-mate just happened to be a major Cornhuskers fan.

    HS Students Fast Friends With Clarence Thomas

    [DC] HS Students Fast Friends With Clarence Thomas
    Two Gaithersburg high school football players made friends with their travel companion on a recent flight back from Nebraska -- except they didn't know he was Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. When they found out, they invited him to speak at their graduation -- and he did. (Published Monday, Jun 1, 2009)

    When they started chatting, Stephens and Ankrah didn't have a clue they were holding court with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

    "I was amazed this guy knew so much about us as football players and as people," said Stephens. "That was shocking. I felt honored to be known by someone of his caliber. He was just a regular old guy, sitting in coach, which really shocked me."

    HS Students Fast Friends With Clarence Thomas

    [DC] HS Students Fast Friends With Clarence Thomas
    Two Gaithersburg high school football players made friends with their travel companion on a recent flight back from Nebraska -- except they didn't know he was Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. When they found out, they invited him to speak at their graduation -- and he did. (Published Monday, Jun 1, 2009)

    By the time the plane landed, the students had figured out who Thomas was, and they promptly told their principal they wanted to invite Thomas to give the keynote speech at their high school graduation. Of course, Principal Carole Working didn't exactly think Thomas would take them up on it. But he showed up at the high school on Monday.

    "These young men had no idea who I was as I formed my first impression. I was just another stranger to them. They were wonderful ambassadors for your school and for their fellow students," said Thomas at the Quince Orchard graduation ceremony.

    When Stephens and Ankrah arrived on-stage to receive their diplomas, they were both embraced by Justice Thomas.

    Ankrah will be playing football for Nebraska next year, but Stephens will be attending Stanford. The justice said he doesn't have any hard feelings over that.