U.S. Supreme Court Justice Shares Personal Story, Advice with Students

    U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor told the Southern community that she thought about asking President Barack Obama to withdraw her nomination to the nation’s highest court amid intense scrutiny four years ago during her confirmation process.

    “The attacks on me were wearing me down,” she said. “The process was exhausting. Some people were saying I wasn’t smart enough to do the job.” But Sotomayor persisted with the support of her family and friends and was eventually confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

    It was a blunt admission during her nearly hour-long talk on Oct. 21 at the Lyman Center for the Performing Arts, where she spoke to an estimated 1,300 people – mostly students, faculty and staff. Her talk was part of a one-on-one interview with President Mary A. Papazian. It capped her campus visit, which included meeting with Southern students, as well as a class of seventh and eighth graders from New Haven’s Columbus School. She also had her photo taken with attendees of a reception in her honor.

    And while she recalled the confirmation process, most of the dialogue focused on her life’s journey and lessons that she has learned along the way. She weaved in plenty of advice to students, especially freshmen who were required last summer to read her memoir, “My Beloved World,” as part of the “Common Read” program.

    Among the pieces of advice she offered students was to take courses outside of their comfort zone while in college. “College is the one time you can experiment a little,” she said.

    While she knew in college that she wanted to go to law school, she decided to take a course in economics so that she had a better understanding of supply and demand, and a course in psychology so that she knew what terms such as “Freudian slip” actually meant.

    “Take courses just because they are interesting…Become a more interesting person,” she urged.

    Asked for her thoughts on taking a foreign language course in college – something many students would prefer to avoid — she expressed her approval for registering for such classes. “Most Europeans speak not (just) one other language, but multiple other languages,” she said.

    Sotomayor said taking a foreign language is also important because it helps to expose students to other cultures. And she added that while cultures may differ, the underlying values among the people are essentially the same – the importance of family, sharing, loyalty and love.

    She also offered a blunt analysis of courtroom justice. “In a courtroom, there are winners. But there’s always, but always, a loser. That person feels justice was not on their side.”

    She said that in writing the book, she attempted to give people an insight into her life beyond the biographical information about her that had already been made known to the public. She also wanted to let people know that although her early life was filled with personal and family struggles, they taught her a great deal and gave her strength.

    The visit was coordinated by a committee, spearheaded by Dawn Cathey, a university assistant in the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs and an adjunct faculty member who teaches in the First-Year Experience program, and Tracy Tyree, vice president for student affairs.

    MEDIA STORY: The New Haven Register ran a Page 1 story in its Oct. 22 edition. The following are links to that story, as well as a collection of photos taken by the paper: