Justice Thomas was comparing the America of his youth to the America of today. The first statement that I noticed is below. I think it explains the premise of his youth.
"If there was to be independence, self-sufficiency, or freedom, then we first had to understand, accept, and discharge our responsibilities."
Life was very different in those years. He lived in the South, so his life was even more different than what is considered normal today. Justice Thomas tries to explain what life was like for his family in those years, despite the hardships of prejudice and discrimination. Their faith is foundational in that response, in the attitudes that were shared from one generation to another. This description from another part of the speech might not be the same without the faith that guided their lives.
"They were law-abiding, hardworking, and disciplined. They discharged their responsibilities to their families and neighbors as best they could. They taught us that despite unfair treatment, we were to be good citizens and good people."Another great statement that goes along with the quote above is this one ::
"Being wronged by others did not justify reciprocal conduct."
More than these thoughts, I found two passages that I felt were exceptional. I will share them here. the first is about the purpose behind establishing America ::
"To establish a government based on the consent of the governed, as the Declaration of Independence makes clear, they gave up only that portion of their rights necessary to create a limited government of the kind needed to secure all of their rights."
Justice Thomas goes on to share examples of his life to make his views more understandable, and he challenges the graduates about their future choices and how they will affect others. We don't know what will happen to us in our lifetime, and we don't always know how deeply our lives affect others. I liked the way he talked about these "lessons" in life, calling them an "unplanned syllabus," and binding them to the survival of our country...
"These small lessons become the unplanned syllabus for learning citizenship, and your efforts to live them will help to form the fabric of a civil society and a free and prosperous nation where inherent equality and liberty are inviolable."
Your can find the whole speech online at https://imprimis.hillsdale.edu/freedom-obligation-2016-commencement-address/
I have heard it said many times in Christian circles that each generation MUST preserve the faith for it to continue... that we are one generation away from its demise. This is true of everything important, including our freedoms and our country.
I will end with this quote, about the danger we face in this generation. I hope you will read the entire speech to discover more.
"Today there is much more focus on our rights and on what we are owed, and much less on our obligations and duties..."