Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson called herself a “Survivor superfan” on Saturday and offered an audience of graduating law school students lessons from the reality TV show.
The show has been on television for 23 years and is now in its 44th season. Jackson said she has seen every episode since the show's second season.
“I watch it with my husband and my daughters even now, which I will admit it’s not easy to do with the demands of my day job. But you have to set priorities, people. And that’s exactly the first lesson that I have for you today,” she told the graduating class of American University’s law school in Washington.
Jackson, the court’s first Black female justice, is coming to the end of her first term on the court. The justices are done hearing arguments for the term and are expected to issue all their remaining opinions by the end of June before going on summer break. Major decisions on affirmative action and President Joe Biden's student loan forgiveness plan have yet to be announced.
In her address, Jackson described “Survivor,” in which contestants are deposited in a remote tropical location and undertake challenges in the hopes of ultimately winning $1 million, as “great fun to watch.” But she also said it holds “a number of broader lessons that are helpful for becoming a good lawyer.”
One lesson, she said, is to “make the most of the resources that you have," drawing a parallel to when she was a federal public defender and prosecutors always seemed to have more resources. Jackson said she knows “what it is like to commit to moving forward even when the deck is stacked against you” and also talked about a Survivor contestant with a prosthetic leg who nonetheless prevailed at a difficult challenge involving a balance beam.
“My advice to you is to do your best to shut out distractions, use your time wisely and figure out how to make the most of what you have,” Jackson said.
Other lessons from the show are to “know your strengths” and to “play the long game,” she said.
That last piece of advice could serve the liberal justice well on the Supreme Court, where her colleagues include six conservatives and two other liberals, making it unlikely her views will prevail in some of the term’s most contentious cases when they are announced over the next several weeks.
“Season after season, the players who tend to do really well are those who appear to come in with the understanding that this game is about existing both in community and conflict,” she said of "Survivor."
Jackson said that players who go far are the ones that “choose optimism, lifting the spirits of the other tribe members, no matter what happens.”
“They try to stay as even-keeled as possible, not getting too carried away by dramatic wins or heartbreaking losses,” she said.
Jackson’s commencement address was the first she has given since becoming a justice. The school’s law school dean, Roger Fairfax, is someone she met in college at Harvard University. His wife, Lisa Fairfax, is one of Jackson’s best friends and former roommates and introduced her at her Senate confirmation hearing.
Jackson is also giving a commencement speech on Sunday at Boston University’s law school.