Supreme Court Justice mingles with the crowd in Huntsman Center speech

Emily Larson
Capital West News

SALT LAKE CITY – Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor addressed a full arena at the University of Utah’s Huntsman Center on Jan. 28.

Sotomayor visited the campus for a public forum as part of the University’s MUSE (My U Signature Experience) project. This project is designed to “enrich student’s undergraduate experience,” according to a recent press release from the University of Utah. This year, the project is focusing on the theme of justice.

Prior to the event, students were encouraged to read “My Beloved World,” Sotomayor’s 2013 memoir, and to submit their questions online. A few of the submitted questions were selected and introduced to Sotomayor by Utah Supreme Court Justice Christine M. Durham. After each question was read, Sotomayor requested that the asker meet her near the stage so she could answer each individual face-to-face. She finished each response with a hug and well wishes.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Justice Sonia Sotomayor

One student asked Sotomayor for advice for first generation students. Sotomayor told the student to maintain a connection with her original heritage, to ask questions when she had them, to seek a mentor, and to master English.

“You are a product of  your family, their history, and the riches that they can give you,” Sotomayor said. “But at the same time, if your family moves to a new country to become a part of it, you have to master its language.”

Renato Olmedo-González, a recent University of Utah graduate, was among those to have his question read. He was so in shock, he said, that he didn’t remember much of what happened; however, he did remember that she spoke to him in Spanish, which meant a lot to him.

His question, which addressed a main point of Sotomayor’s book, concerned feeling out of place and coping with these feelings. Sotomayor gave him examples from her life, and reminded him that everyone feels out of place sometimes.

“Bear in mind that you really are not unusual,” she said.

The justice also discussed the responsibilities of the Supreme Court.

“It’s really answering those cases for which the question is really hard and it’s answering in a way that binds everybody in the United States. That’s a big charge,” Sotomayor said. “No matter how right I may think I am when I vote, I can never forget that my vote will make someone happy, but there’s another side who will be negatively affected because they’ve lost something that they think is important to them. That puts a greater burden on the court and a greater obligation to get it right.”

Towards the end of her address, Sotomayor wandered among middle and high school students, posing for pictures. One group of high school seniors traveled from Malad, Idaho to hear the address.

Sotomayor was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009 by President Barak Obama, and is the third woman and first Latina to serve on the court. She is the oldest of two children and comes from a Puerto Rican family. She was a first generation college student from the Bronx and has degrees from Princeton and Yale Law School.

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