By BRADY McCOMBS
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor told Utah students that the key to navigating a world filled with drastically different opinions is being able to understand the unique experiences that shape other people’s views.
Her remarks came during an informal question and answer session Wednesday at the University of Utah where she didn’t discuss any of the key issues before the Supreme Court the next session.
She instead focused on imparting the lessons she’s learned during her life that began by growing up poor in a Bronx housing project through her 2009 appointment to the nation’s highest court. She referred many times to her memoir, “My Beloved World,” which tells her life story.
“You have to understand that the world is not you,” Sotomayor said. “Every one of you has had unique experiences that sort of create your lens. The trick in interacting with others and being accepted by others and others accepting you is to try to see the world the way they do.”
Sotomayor said that approach allows her and the other Supreme Court justices to get along very well despite sometimes vehement disagreements on cases before them.
“If you read our opinions, you would think we are barking at each other every day,” Sotomayor said. “We’re not. We get out our spleen in our writing.”
A laid back and engaging Sotomayor walked around while speaking, and she hugged and took pictures with students whose questions were chosen. She climbed into the steep stands of the Huntsman Center to sit among giddy students, who snapped photos of her with their cellphones.
“I should never wear high heels when I do this,” Sotomayor said, drawing big laughs.
Later, while sitting with middle school students, she quipped: “No, no selfies sweetie. They make me look ugly.”
Sotomayor, who is the first Latina and third woman on the U.S. Supreme Court, said, “I’ve gone further than I ever dreamed and been happy most of the time.”
Born in New York to Puerto Rican parents, Sotomayor graduated from Princeton and Yale Law School before beginning her career as an attorney and judge.
She confided that she still doesn’t always feel fully comfortable in the many spheres she resides in during her personal and professional life, but said that’s the nature of life. She encouraged minority students to hold on to their culture, language and roots but to also master the written and spoken English language.
She scoffed at people who believe some people get into college programs merely because they are minorities, telling the audience that if you got in it’s because you met the minimum standards all schools have. She then challenged students to set themselves apart from the pack by working hard and demonstrating drive, hunger and determination.
Malachi Brown, a ninth-grader at Matheson Junior High in Magna, Utah, snapped a picture with Sotomayor when she sat by him and his classmates and planned to post it on Facebook. His classmate, Xitlally Gomez, said Sotomayor’s words inspired her.
“She gave me a little bit more pride and more strength to keep my culture and my language,” said Gomez, a ninth-grader.