The girl from the Bronx, turned woman of the Supreme Court, paid a rare visit to East Lansing to share her life story of triumph and endurance.
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir, “My Beloved World,” is required reading for all incoming MSU freshmen. Published in 2013, the book debuted on the top of the nonfiction New York Times Best-Seller List for several weeks.
“MSU is, and has been, one of our nation's foremost public universities, and tremendous opportunities await you here,” Sotomayor said.
Attending her first semester of college, things didn’t go too smoothly with her first assignment.
“I still remember when I got it back. I saw a big red C-plus marked at the top. It was the lowest grade I’ve ever seen in anything since fourth grade. I was devastated, and thought I was better than that. But a supportive network of family, friends and professors helped me survive it and improve.”
Sotomayor said going to university taught her three things: Find the right people to share life with, share knowledge with others and contribute something to make the world better.
“A sense of meaning comes from when you give something valuable to the community. For me, the way to do that was to become a lawyer and later a judge. Your passion in life may be different, but you need to find it because it is what gives meaning to life.”
Sotomayor contends that becoming well rounded in college serves you well much later in life.
“In my profession, you become a temporary expert in every case you handle. When I was a lawyer, I had to learn more than I ever would have dreamed about. I learned about designer handbags — that was fun. But then I spent an entire two weeks learning about mosquito repellant,” she said. “Learning to be a curious person, someone who is fluent in the new and unfamiliar will serve you well in any profession.”
Supreme Court justices are sometimes untouchable figures, Kristin Shelley, director of the East Lansing Public Library said. “They aren't out in front of people all of the time and in the news where senators and congressmen are,” she added.
Sotomayor’s story is testament to the success of affirmative action plans, she said.
“She came from poverty in the Bronx. Her father died when she was 9-years-old, and she was a juvenile diabetic giving herself insulin shots at 7-years-old.”
The idea for Sotomayor to come to MSU spurred from the success of congressman John Lewis’ visit to MSU in 2014, as part of the One Book One Community program.
“I wrote her a letter and she actually read her mail. It took several months before she responded. People’s eyes lit up and we got to work on it right away.”
This community engagement is what One Book One Community is all about, she said.
“Anytime you can give a piece of literature to a group of people that will ignite conversation about the themes in the book is a positive experience. It unites an incoming class in a way they aren't necessarily united otherwise.”