U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor still draws upon inspiration imparted by her mother and grandmother, she told a crowd of more than 3,000 students, faculty and staff during a question-and-answer session April 5 in the Field House at Washington University in St. Louis.
“Like my grandmother, my mother taught me to look at the good in people,” said Sotomayor, who was born in the Bronx, New York, to a Puerto Rican family.
She said she relies on that advice when dealing with difficult cases and challenging people during her time on the court.
“These days, there is a lot of screaming between people and among people,” Sotomayor said. “And it’s sometimes hard to get past that. With my colleagues, with whom I have very divergent views with many, probably the majority right now, I try very, very hard to see the good in them, because I know there is good in every one of them.”
Sotomayor, who was introduced by Arts & Sciences junior Sarah Del Carmen Camacho, was very relaxed while answering questions from Chancellor Andrew D. Martin and four students in the audience. She left her seat and mingled among the crowd, hugging, shaking hands and taking pictures with students.
She encouraged students to pursue their passions and said people from all walks of life can serve others, from lawyers to accountants to bus drivers.
“You create service by how you turn your life into making the world a place that others can feel included and helped,” she said.
Nominated by President Barack Obama in May 2009, she is the first Latina and the third woman to serve on the Supreme Court.
“When President Obama called me to tell me he would nominate me to the Supreme Court, he asked me to do one thing, and that was to stay connected to my community,” Sotomayor said. “And my response was, ‘That’s a very easy promise to make, Mr. President. I don’t know how to do anything else.'”
“I am an incredibly proud American,” she said. “I wear my pride in my nation on my sleeve. But I have a Latina soul that was created by my family, by our culture.”
Sotomayor discussed her upbringing in a poor Bronx neighborhood, where her mother placed great emphasis on learning and higher education.
“I don’t think you can ever measure your success as a person by something so far away and unlikely that it may never happen,” she told the crowd, in response to a student’s question about the path to a seat on the nation’s highest court. “How I’ve lived my life is that every job I do, I concentrate on that job and doing it as well as I can, because once you do that, people will notice. And that will carry you to the next step.
“If you can live your life every day that you work doing something that gives you that sense of satisfaction and that sense of accomplishment, you’ve succeeded.”
If you can live your life every day that you work doing something that gives you that sense of satisfaction and that sense of accomplishment, you’ve succeeded.Sonia Sotomayor
Sotomayor has continued her love of lifelong learning, having learned how to dance, swim and throw a baseball after turning 40.
“In the last few years, I took up playing poker,” she said, to the delight of the audience, who all received a copy of Sotomayor’s 2013 autobiography, “My Beloved World.”
Anna Gonzalez, vice chancellor for student affairs, initiated Sotomayor’s visit to campus. The Field House event was sponsored by the Office of Student Affairs and the Chancellor’s Office.