Merrick Garland, President Obama’s pick for the open seat on the Supreme Court, has kept a relatively low public profile while his nomination has been stuck in limbo for nearly three months.
He has been spotted on Capitol Hill meeting with Republican senators, who have stalled his nomination process. And he has delivered a few public speeches that have little to do with his nomination, including one last month at his high school alma mater in a Chicago suburb.
Next week the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will deliver another speech: A mile away from the U.S. Capitol and open to the news media, he will be speaking at an elementary school graduation ceremony in Northeast Washington where Garland, 63, has tutored students for the past 18 years.
Garland is scheduled to deliver the fifth-grade commencement speech for J.O. Wilson Elementary School on June 15 during an “If you can dream it, you can do it!” themed ceremony at the Atlas Performing Arts Center on H Street NE.
Garland has tutored two of the graduating fifth-graders for years. Every other Monday, Garland meets with Vernell Garvin and Jenifer Morales Garcia to work with them on their homework and talk to them about their futures. He shares stories about his own daughters, and he always brings a deck of cards in case they finish their work early. They will introduce Garland at the graduation.
“When I have problems with my math homework, he’ll help me with that,” Vernell said when Garland received the Supreme Court nomination. “He’s a very good person.”
The school’s principal, Heidi Haggerty, said there are no politics involved in Garland’s commencement speech. Garland has continued tutoring at the school twice a month since his nomination, and the principal says she asked him if he would give the speech, and he accepted. The speech is expected to be about 10 minutes long.
“He did not hesitate at all. He looked very pleased to be invited,” Haggerty said. “I was very excited, because I know how busy he is.”
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The school has a commencement speaker at graduation each year, but Haggerty says this is probably the most high-profile honoree so far. Last year, Michael Moxley — a physician at the University of Virginia and a friend of Haggerty’s — delivered the speech, talking about growing up and following one’s dreams.
J.O. Wilson — a largely African American elementary in the D.C. Public School system where about 25 percent of students are fully meeting reading and math expectations on standardized tests — has a partnership with the D.C. Court of Appeals, and about four groups of lawyers tutor the students each month. But no volunteer is as consistent in meeting with the children as Garland, according to school staff. He also gets his law clerks to volunteer at the school.
Garland even invited Charlene Wilburn, a longtime teacher at J.O. Wilson, to attend the president’s announcement of his nomination at the White House in March.
There are about 45 fifth-graders graduating, and about 200 faculty and family members are expected to attend.
The students will sing songs and recite poetry, including a Langston Hughes poem and the song “Rise Up” by singer Andra Day. Each student will receive a graduation certificate.
The ceremony will be followed by a reception.
Haggerty said the students have been learning about the Supreme Court and know about Garland’s nomination. Still, she said, they are just 10 years old, and she isn’t sure they understand how unusual it is to have a Supreme Court nominee regularly visit your school.
“When something like this happens and you’re 10, they think it’s an everyday thing,” Haggerty said. “They don’t have 40 or 50 years of experience to know what a rare experience it is to be honored in that way.”