Georgia Supreme Court Justice gives keynote during Ethics Awareness Week at Kennesaw State

KENNESAW, Ga. | Nov 10, 2022

Presiding Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia Nels Peterson, a Kennesaw State graduate, had an encouraging message for current students during an Ethics Awareness Week keynote address: Use your college years to learn to be an engaged and ethical member of greater society.

Nels Peterson and President Kathy Schwaig
Nels Peterson and President Kathy Schwaig

“Whether you’re a student or a high government official or anywhere in between, you are a member of a community, and you have an obligation to engage in your community responsibly,” Peterson said. “I don’t know a better place to really experiment with what that looks like than a university campus.”

Peterson noted that he took his own opportunity to seek out challenges and ethical questions to tackle in his time as a student at Kennesaw State, a period he said was pivotal in his career and his personal development.

Peterson spoke Wednesday as the keynote to Ethics Awareness Week, a week of events across the University System of Georgia highlighting USG institutions’ commitment to integrity, good judgment and a dedication to public service.

In his address, Peterson acknowledged the inherent gray areas in enforcing questions of ethical dilemmas when compared to the black and white certainty of written law. But he said questions of ethics are often questions of character.

“Ethics and professionalism are just words for how we treat each other. They’re words for how we act as responsible members in a community,” he said.

Peterson said one of the chief characteristics of ethical conduct is civility. 

“Civility means treating each person like a human being with inherent worth and dignity, even when we think them completely and horribly wrong about a really important issue,” Peterson said. “Civility isn’t a luxury reserved for situations with little at stake. To reject this idea to say that some issues are too important to treat our fellow humans as all having inherent worth and dignity is to reduce people to merely a means to an end.”

Peterson spoke in the University Rooms of the Carmichael Student Center and was introduced by President Kathy Schwaig. 

“We are so lucky to have such a distinguished alum come back and share his own experience with ethical dilemmas and decision making for Ethics Awareness Week,” Schwaig said.


Peterson was appointed by then-Gov. Nathan Deal to the Supreme Court of Georgia in 2017 and was re-elected statewide for a six-year term in 2018. He previously served as a judge of the Georgia Court of Appeals, law clerk for federal judges, Georgia solicitor general, vice chancellor for legal affairs and secretary to the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, executive counsel and deputy executive counsel to Gov. Sonny Perdue and various other roles.

Peterson graduated from Kennesaw State University with a B.S. in political science and a minor in economics. He also graduated from Harvard Law School.

– By Thomas Hartwell
Photos by Judith Pishnery

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