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Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor visits UTSA

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor speaks at UTSA Jan. 25, 2018.
Camille Phillips | Texas Public Radio
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor speaks at UTSA.

As a Latina who grew up in a housing project in New York City, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has seen a lot of firsts. She was the first in her family to go to college, and the first Hispanic named to the highest judicial bench in the country.

Thursday, she visited the University of Texas at San Antonio and answered questions from a student body that can see themselves reflected in her. Many UTSA students are also the first in their family to go to college, and many students are also Hispanic.

The Supreme Court justice walked throughout the packed auditorium in the student union, shaking hands and greeting people in between answering questions that drew laughter and the occasional tear.

One student asked Sotomayor for advice for first generation college students like herself.

“Success is not easy. Life is not fair. Platitudes, right? You’ve all heard them. They’re true. They’re horribly true,” Sotomayor said. “What I say to you is: Yes, I know it’s hard. I live that hardness in my stomach every single day. But it’s worth the effort.”

Another student asked Sotomayor who inspired her. The justice said her mother, who grew up in Puerto Rico and dreamed of getting an education. Her mother was only 17 when she enlisted in the army, lying about her age to get in.

Students, faculty and staff stood up and cheered when Justice Sotomayor entered the packed auditorium Jan. 25, 2018. Two overflow rooms on the main campus and one on the downtown campus were also full, for a total audience of about 1,200.
Students, faculty and staff stood up and cheered when Justice Sotomayor entered the packed auditorium. Two overflow rooms on the main campus and one on the downtown campus were also full, for a total audience of about 1,200.

“I think we’re past the statute of limitations,” said Sotomayor to laughter. “Hence, I do understand that sometimes people do the wrong thing but maybe for the right reason. And if you’re caught, you have to be punished, but we have to understand that committing a crime is not always that you’re a bad person.”

Sotomayor also said her goal in life is to continuously learn and to make a difference in someone else’s life.

“There’s no purpose in my mind to living without leaving something positive behind. Now, I’ve been gifted with leaving something big. My (judicial) opinions will last a long time, I hope,” Sotomayor said. “But even if they don’t, the legacy I want to leave is that I’ve said something today that might help somebody in a choice they’ll make tomorrow.”

The message of perseverance and service struck a chord with UTSA master’s student Alex Rios and her mom Irene Rios, who’s a judge in San Antonio on the fourth Court of Appeals.

“My mom has always told us when it came to a career ‘What impact is that going to have on the world?’ ” Alex Rios said.

“It really hit home to me when she said it’s acceptable for people to be smarter than you but it’s not acceptable to say that they work harder than you,” Rios added. “That really resonated deeply with me because — especially in this major that I’m in. I have no background in business whatsoever, and sometimes I feel like I’m just lost, like I have no idea what’s going on. But if there’s one thing that I do do is that I do put in extra effort.”

Camille Phillips can be reached at camille@tpr.org or on Twitter @cmpcamille