“Saying goodbye to Groton is like saying goodbye to an absolutely ordinary rainbow.”
Judge Stephen A. Higginson spoke from personal experience when he delivered those words, part of his keynote address at Groton School’s 129th Prize Day. Higginson, a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, is a Groton alumnus from the Form of 1979, as well as the father of 2014 graduate Christopher Higginson and the son of 1950 Groton graduate Charles Higginson.
Punctuating his message with poetry, from a whimsical Ogden Nash couplet to profound Shakespearean verse, Higginson imparted wisdom about mentorship, leadership, and how to say goodbye. He also shared some observations from his own legal studies, explaining, for example, how Thurgood Marshall’s careful choice of words was key to his success when he argued the landmark Brown v. the Board of Education case before the U.S. Supreme Court, a court Marshall would later join.
Higginson said that Marshall “refused the temptation to decry bigotry. He did not demonize. Instead, he said a ‘respectable’ majority in the South—he called it respectable—supported segregation to avoid racial friction.” The polite approach helped secure a unanimous decision.
“How wise—and important today—not to build an argument around absolutes or accusations," Higginson said. "How wise not to use proud words." Marshall’s argument was “factual, even aspirational, centered on common ground, the positive that all Americans, in his words, had ‘grown up,’ had fought two World Wars side by side, so much so that the 14th Amendment’s promise of equality could step beyond fear.”