Justice Sonia Sotomayor inspires students with lecture

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Posted: Wednesday, February 5, 2014 1:15 am | Updated: 1:19 am, Wed Feb 5, 2014.

At 8 years old, Sonia Sotomayor learned how to give herself an insulin shot. She had just been diagnosed with diabetes and was listening to her parents fight about who should be the one to give her the shot, when she decided to do it herself.

This steadfast determination led Sotomayor to be the third woman and first person of Hispanic heritage to earn a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I’m just stubborn,” Sotomayor said. “I just really don’t want to give in.” 

Sotomayor, U.S. Supreme Court justice and author, visited Carnegie Music Hall on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. to talk about her memoir, “My Beloved World,” in an interview with Chancellor Mark Nordenberg. About 1,900 people attended the hour-and-a-half-long talk, which was part of the Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures program. 

Sotomayor has served as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court since August 2009. 

The first pages of her memoir, published in January 2013, detail Sotomayor’s decision to give herself the insulin shot. Sotomayor elaborated on her childhood growing up in a housing project in The Bronx, N.Y., where she attended local Catholic schools. 

Sotomayor described herself as an “ordinary person blessed with extraordinary opportunities,” citing her close relationship with her grandmother as a large influence on her success today.  

“To be a successful adult, you must have one adult who loves you unconditionally,” Sotomayor said.

Sotomayor earned a scholarship to Princeton University and graduated summa cum laude in 1976 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history. She attended Yale Law School and graduated with a juris doctorate in 1979. 

Before President Barack Obama nominated Sotomayor to the Supreme Court in 2009, she had a long career as a lawyer and a judge. 

Following her graduation, Sotomayor served as assistant district attorney in the New York County district attorney’s office until 1984. She moved on to serve Pavia & Harcourt, a business law firm, until 1992 when she started serving on the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York until 1998. From 1998 until 2009, Sotomayor served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Second Circuit.

Nordenberg said Sotomayor, a best-selling author, was “America’s first celebrity justice.” 

Sotomayor said she wrote her memoir to connect with readers on a personal level. She said American citizens hear about Supreme Court decisions, but do not know much about the justices beyond what they do for a living. 

“If you really want to touch people, you have to open yourself up to them,” Sotomayor said.

Sotomayor asked the audience members to consider what they are doing to change the issues that trouble them. 

Sotomayor told of the adversities she had faced growing up.

Her father was an alcoholic and died when she was young, leading her to form a close relationship with her grandmother and her cousin.

Those relationships faced more instability. 

“I watched my cousin die of heroin and AIDs,” Sotomayor said. “I realized that giving up meant I would go down his road.” 

She targetted the many students in the audience and took a few moments to advise aspiring lawyers.

“Remember always what the purpose of being a lawyer is — service,” she said.

Several students who attended the lecture were enlightened by the event.

Emma Feyler, an undeclared freshman, said she liked the justice’s viewpoint on the necessity of unconditional love from adults and connected with Sotomayor’s messages.

“If I could pick anything in the world to be, it would be a Supreme Court justice,” Feyler said. 

Toyin Ajayi, a freshman majoring in biology, said she was not normally interested in this kind of lecture, but was impressed with the discussion.

“[Sotomayor] is a person who could inspire people from all walks of life,” she said.

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