CLASS OF 1991
The Honorable William Thomas recalls a professor at W&J telling him, “You can’t measure yourself against everybody else. You measure yourself against the goals that you have set for life.” It’s a message that he has taken to heart and applied to his life inside and outside the courtroom.
While at W&J, he always tried to exceed his own expectations. As the first from his family to graduate from college, he never took the experience for granted. He worked hard in the classroom, but he also found time to establish the first multicultural group at W&J, the Cultural Awareness Support Enrichment Group. At W&J, he learned to set his sights high—a trait that no doubt contributed to his election as circuit court judge at the age of 37.
In 2004, there were only four African-American judges in Miami-Dade County, Florida—a fact that Thomas felt needed to be changed. So the former public defender in the Miami-Dade County and federal public defender offices decided that he should run for a judgeship. He won that hotly contested race and is now sitting as a circuit court judge in Dade County .
“The toughest thing about being a judge is the political pressure that’s placed on you to do what is popular rather than doing what is right,” he says. However, Thomas maintains that even if it ends up costing him his position, he will follow the law and do what is right. Another challenge in Thomas’ work is keeping the power that a judge holds in check. In order to keep perspective, Thomas reminds himself of the adage that “with great power comes great responsibility.”
“For being a small school, W&J is very reflective of what the real world is like,” Thomas says. He believes that life is a continual learning process, something he learned at W&J. “Before W&J, I wasn’t sure who I really was,” he remembers. “But after I graduated, I had such a sense of who I was and what I wanted to do.”