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Sotomayor discusses background, hardships

Supreme Court Justice connects with students, leads open conversation regarding memoir

University News Editor
Thursday, February 8, 2018

Sonia Sotomayor talked about her experience as a first-generation college student. Students in the class of 2020 read her memoir, “My Beloved World,” prior to their first semester at Brown.

It was one standing ovation after another as the campus welcomed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor to speak in a conversation moderated by President Christina Paxson P’19 Wednesday afternoon.

Addressing a packed audience in the Pizzitola Center, Sotomayor touched on a variety of topics ranging from her experiences as a first-generation college student to the importance of understanding different perspectives.

Sotomayor began by emphasizing how she maintains a sense of relativity when facing hardships. After being diagnosed with diabetes at a young age, she struggled to balance her condition with her everyday life. But it wasn’t until she noticed her cousin — who had a non-functional arm — that she came to recognize others’ experiences with hardships.

“As sorry as I felt for myself, … someone would be dealing with something that was more serious and more life-impacting than my condition,” Sotomayor said. “You need that sense of proportionality to remember that no matter how hard things are, they’re harder for other people. If you stick to it, you can find ways around them,” Sotomayor added.

Throughout the conversation, Sotomayor and Paxson drew examples from Sotomayor’s memoir, “My Beloved World,” which members of the class of 2020 read as part of the University’s First Reading program.

The memoir was a key inspiration for Ana Sofía Velázquez ’20, who introduced the conversation. Velázquez said she felt personally connected to Sotomayor because she, too, is from Puerto Rico, and she described the “special spark” alive in their shared culture and college experience.

“Having her book as our First Reading encouraged me go to college with an open mind, ready to overcome any struggle that came my way so I could achieve my goals, and so I could beat the odds, as Justice Sotomayor did,” Velázquez said.

As a first-generation college student, Sotomayor had no point of reference for many stages in her life, she said. “If you don’t come from a background that can explain the markers of life — the markers of success — then you don’t really know how to aspire to success.” In spite of the lack of reference points, she attended Princeton just three years after it began accepting women into the university, and went on to graduate summa cum laude before going on to earn her law degree from Yale. She is now the first Hispanic and third woman to become a Supreme Court Justice.

While Paxson moderated the talk with questions of her own, the majority of the conversation focused on answering questions from pre-selected students in the audience.

When asked by Evan Coleman ’18 how citizens can advocate for the truth during an era of misinformation, Sotomayor emphasized the ability to step into other people’s shoes.

“So many people start fighting about the facts and the importance of the facts as opposed to the importance of the principles that are motivating the discussion,” Sotomayor said. Once you understand what’s important to the other side, “that’s the beginning of compromise. That’s the beginning of serious conversation,” she said.

Another student, Emilio Picayo ’20, asked how being Latina affects her role and perspective as a judge.

“What you got is Sonia Sotomayor. What Sonia Sotomayor is is not just a Latina,” she said. “I can’t pick out one piece of me and tell you that uniquely affected this decision in this way. … (Being Latina) influences (me), but not in ways you can quantify and not in ways I can tell you.”

Sotomayor ended the question-and-answer session by answering a question by Patricia Rodarte ’19 about how to address those who feel that their sense of belonging is attributed to affirmative action. Sotomayor carries her status “with pride,” she said. “What I’ve done is more valuable because I’ve worked harder than (others) have, and will have gone has far as (others) have.”

Outside of her role as a judge, Sotomayor is currently working on three books: an abridged version of “My Beloved World” for middle school students, a picture book capturing her life through “the influence of words, books and documents” and a book describing how people with disabilities — such as her own experience with diabetes — contribute positively to society.

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  1. Ron Ruggieri says:

    In capitalist America the myth of a generic ” privileged white male ” can only obscure the overwhelming reality of CLASS inequality . In general really PRIVILEGED upper class males AND females daily exploit, oppress, humiliate, and abuse working class males AND females every which way. YOUR HONOR Sotomayor is a pillar of this social order – along with the rest of the Supreme Court. They will always rule in favor of property rights over human rights. A while back they made THE CORPORATION a person with ” free speech ” rights . Since it SPEAKS with its money , it has the right to buy a presidential election.

  2. As a product of affirmative action, A.J. Sotomayor is well qualified to comment on its effects on recipients, as suggested in a commentary from the archives, an excerpt from which, follows:

    Children/adults dubbed “Black” or “Hispanic”, without regard to circumstances or need
    are said to require assistance, universally; and to that dictum can’t avoid paying heed.
    It becomes personal tragedy–that when played out nationally, makes for a problem of much broader scope,. when by virtue of membership in a particular group any young person is led to believe he or she, individually, can’t cope.
    And, later on, as adults–perceived as having been “given” special preferences–
    regardless of their attainments, they have a hard price to pay: no matter where or
    how high they wind up by dint of much good, hard work rhey may be perceived
    as “not having earned the way”.not only by others, but as self-perception.

    Testimonial evidence consistent with the foregoing hypothesis has been provided by
    Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Sotomayor who has said, for example,

    “I am a product of affirmative action. I am the perfect affirmative action baby. I am Puerto Rican, born and raised in the south Bronx. My test scores were not comparable
    to my colleagues at Princeton and Yale. Not so far off so that I wasn’t able to
    succeed at those institutions. . . .

    “I have spent my years since Princeton, while at law school and in my various professional jobs, not feeling completely a part of the worlds I inhabit. I am always looking over my shoulder wondering if I measure up.” Sonia Sotomayor

  3. I see her as an unthinking vote for whatever liberal cause that is before the court. Hard to hear her whine about hardship with that hanging around her neck.

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