The University of Miami has been known to attract high profile visitors such as President Obama and Governor Romney, and this year is no exception. Recently, the University of Miami had the privilege of having Justice Sonia Sotomayor visit campus. The main purpose for her visit was to discuss her new book entitled, My Beloved World.
Many are aware that Justice Sotomayor is the first Hispanic and third female appointed to the Supreme Court. When asked how she felt about Latinos and women were progressing, she said that though many gains have been made, we still have a long way to go. Though there are Latinos on some of the highest state courts, she feels that the dropout rate among that demographic is too high and that it is the first thing that needs to be changed in order to make greater and continued progress.
One of the first questions that she received that evening was why she decided to write a biography as opposed to writing about her time on the bench. Her answer was simple, “I just got this job, what’s to write about?” The decision goes deeper than that however, while preparing for her confirmation hearing, she was asked questions about her past and her family and she got some of them wrong. For example, she didn’t realize that her father was born in a different town from where he lived. It bothered her that she didn’t know about her past because she grew up listening to stories about her ancestors but, instead of really listening, she tuned them out. It was important to her to really connect with her past and get the answers to her questions before it was too late, something that she encourages each of us to do. Another reason for writing this book is because while speaking to students, she has been faced with many tough questions such as, “If a child loses their father, how will they ever survive?” Justice Sotomayor realized that she couldn’t speak to every student in the country but what she could do is leave them her answers in the form of her book.
Justice Sotomayor genuinely cares for the people; she told us that her main motivation to get out of her neighborhood and also the reason to go into her profession was that, while in Catholic school, she learned that you could either be a good person or a bad person. She wanted to go beyond hearing about loving God and loving your neighbor, she actually wanted to do it. Justice Sotomayor stressed the fact that law is a noble profession, because you are serving and helping the people. It’s not about getting rich and making a lot of money, it’s about helping people; Justice Sotomayor told us that, “no matter what you do or where you go in life, whatever your extracurricular may be, you should make sure to take the time to help the people.”
The conversation drifted towards typical college concerns and her opinions on them. She is alarmed, like many students, at the rising cost of education. She received almost full scholarships to both Princeton and Yale and so she was able to graduate with minimal student debt, less to none as she put it. Justice Sotomayor feels that schools need to find a way to contain cost and reach across the isle because, not every school needs to specialize in everything. That being said, because of the trend of rising cost, students and their families in some cases, are going to have to be willing to make greater sacrifices to get a good education.
Justice Sotomayor opened up about her own college and law school experiences. She told the audience a story about getting a C on her first paper in college which had not happened to her since the fourth grade. Instead of shrugging it off, Justice Sotomayor went and asked for help; she was told that she didn’t know how to write well and through the help of a professor and studying grammar books all summer, she learned. Once she reached her senior year, she was told that her senior thesis was one of the best that had been submitted that semester. The point that she wanted to drive home was that, we all have resources available to us, it’s up to us though to reach out and take advantage of them. We were also encouraged to step outside of the box and take classes outside of our major because, different classes teach you different ways of thinking and make you well rounded. With regards to law school, she told us that the scariest thing about it was being there, we think that we are smart in college but when we get to law school; we see how very little we actually know.
Justice Sotomayor even opened up to us about her personal life. She shared an anecdote with us about her relationship that eventually blossomed into a marriage and the lessons learned from it. She also shared with us why she loved Nancy Drew growing up; she thought it was wonderful how Nancy Drew used her abilities to help other people the best way that she knew how. She also enjoys reading Science Fiction and mysteries set in foreign countries because she feels as though it gives you a different look into other cultures. Justice Sotomayor also shared with us how having childhood diabetes affected her life. It taught her discipline because she knew that if she wanted a full, happy, and healthy life, she would need to learn how to self-monitor and stay self-aware. In her opinion, “nothing teaches you discipline more than having to manage something.”
Meeting Justice Sotomayor was an interesting opportunity; she was nothing like I had expected. I was expecting her to be really distant and aloof but I found that she was the complete opposite. She entered the room, all smiles, and shook everyone’s hand. She then had to persuade us (student media) that it was okay to be seated. Justice Sotomayor also asked us to introduce ourselves before firing off questions; she wanted to know who we were. No question was seen as trivial and she mixed seriousness, quick wit, and anecdotes in all of her answers; she helped create an interactive and less nerve wracking atmosphere. What also struck me was that as the end of her Q & A session neared, she went into the crowd and shook everyones hand while President Shalala continued asking her questions. Having a Supreme Court Justice visit your school doesn’t happen every day, but it’s good to know that at the end of the day, justices are “normal” people too.
words_taylor duckett. photos_raquel zaldivar.