Justice-elect swears in state reps at Beaumont
About 200 people packed the foyer of Beaumont School in Cleveland Heights to see the first African-American woman elected as a justice to the Supreme Court of Ohio administer the oath of office to two local state representatives. All three are graduates of the Catholic, all-girls school, whose motto is “Where young women learn to change the world.”
Supreme Court Justice-elect Melody Stewart gave the oath of office to third-term 9th district state Rep. Janine Boyd (D-Cleveland Heights) and newly elected 12th district state Rep. Juanita Brent (D-Lee/Harvard) on Dec. 16.
Stewart, currently a judge on the Eighth District Court of Appeals, will be sworn in to the Supreme Court on Jan. 2.
Boyd organized the event, which she said the legislature encourages to promote community participation. Boyd said it can be difficult for some constituents, like her mother, who uses a wheelchair, to go to Columbus to see the mass swearing-in ceremony on the floor of the Statehouse on Jan. 7.
Beaumont School President Wendy Hoke acted as master of ceremonies for the afternoon event. Flanked by state and American flags and a wall of bold student art, she talked about the school's tradition of promoting leadership, faith and service. She said the three graduates "embody our vision of the school."
In introducing the judge, Hoke noted Stewart was the first African American in Beaumont history to lead student council. Stewart joked, “I didn’t in my wildest dreams think about running for anything except down Fairmount to catch the 40 bus.” She credited one of the nuns with encouraging her to run for council. She thanked her mother who “worked overtime at the post office so I could attend school here.”
Boyd, a Cleveland Heights native, was the first to take the oath. This is her third term as representative in the 9th district, where she succeeded her mother, Barbara Boyd, in 2014. Prior to that, Boyd served as an appointed member of the Cleveland Heights City Council. She is a 1989 graduate of Beaumont, and currently serves on the school’s board.
In her welcoming remarks, Boyd asked all public officials present to stand, and about 25 people rose to their feet and received an ovation. Before her swearing-in, Boyd thanked a long list of friends, family and supporters before placing her hand on a Bible held by her fiancé and daughter. Afterward, she presented her parents with flowers to celebrate their 52nd wedding anniversary.
Next, Brent stepped to the podium. A 2002 Beaumont grad, she was elected to a seat once held by her aunt, influential Cuyahoga County Democrat Vermel Whalen, who died in 2013. Brent choked up, wishing Vermel were there to witness her swearing-in.
Before taking her oath on a Bible held by her young goddaughter, Brent spoke directly to the current Beaumont students in the room, telling them, “Anything is possible . . . no matter what your age, what you look like, what your race is, what your religion is. You can do whatever you want to do in this world.” She said when she announced she was going to run, “people would say . . . you’re too fat, you’re too young, you’re too this. I feel like if God puts on your heart to do it, it’s meant for you.”
The future Supreme Court justice was even more direct to the future alumnae. “I expect you to do great things,” Stewart said. “No pressure here, but we’re really looking for you to save the world.”
Fred D'Ambrosi has been a journalist for 40 years, most recently as news director of WOIO/WUAB.