I was the tiniest bit miffed at having to arrive two hours early to last night’s appearance of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor at Town Hall Seattle, in the service of having my ragtag messenger bag sniffed by a bomb-detecting dog (a very friendly black lab). Believe me, it was more than worth the bother.
Sotomayor is touring for the paperback edition of her memoir, “My Beloved World” (Vintage). My colleague Katherine Long chronicled her appearance earlier yesterday at the University of Washington, but Sotomayor, who held a Town Hall crowd of 850 in thrall for an hour and a half, still had energy to burn. Interviewed by Seattle author Eric Liu, she dispensed wisdom by the bucketful – on the advantages of adversity, on the importance of mentors and other life lessons she learned on the way to becoming the first Hispanic and the third woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. Here’s a sample:
On self-reliance and support: “I had to rely on me to survive,” said Sotomayor, who grew up in a household with an alcoholic father and a frustrated, distant mother – she was closest to her grandmother, her Abuelita. “But I couldn’t do it alone. It shocks me when someone says, I did it alone. Nobody does it alone….if you forget how much you need others, you’re going to limit your successes.”
On mentors: “Mentors are terribly important. People gravitate to individuals who they think are like them….that’s very, very comforting, but it doesn’t teach you a lot. Find someone who is doing something in the way that you admire, or that has integrity, that you look up to.”
Saying she chose mentors who were good at things she wasn’t good at, she says that today “I watch my Supreme Court colleagues and from every single one of them, I take things, and try to emulate them.”
On asking questions: “I have spent my life saying ‘I don’t know’…there is no shame in not knowing. There should be shame in not asking.”
On luck: “You need a measure of luck – to put yourself there, you have to work at getting yourself in a place where you can meet luck.”
On engaging young people in government: “It takes idealism, of not being a pessimist, of having hope. It doesn’t help to complain. Say – ‘what’s important to me? What issue in this society bothers me?’ If everyone picked one issue they’re interested in and did something about it, we would effect a tsunami of change.”
There was more, including Sotomayor’s answer to an 8-year-old girl’s question: if she were a young girl, how would she change the world? “If I could wave a magic wand, I would make sure that every child in this country, and in the world, would have the same quality of education,” said Sotomayor, who provoked fervent applause with that answer and posed with her astonished young interlocutor afterward for a photo.
In response to a question, Sotomayor said that she has no interest in running for office. Too bad, because last night I bet she could have picked up 850 votes.