U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor had a simple message for the 100 or so kids gathered in the new Ralph L. Carr Judicial Center in Denver on May 2.
No matter what you choose to do when you grow up, do something that excites you.
“What you do best are the things you’re passionate about. They don’t have to be important to anyone but you,” Sotomayor said. “What’s important is, as my mother always said, that you do what you’re doing well and that you like doing it.”
She then added the caveat: “As long as it’s legitimate.”
Sotomayor spoke to the young people as part of the celebration of the new judicial center, which houses the Colorado Supreme Court and several other branches of Colorado’s courts. The youths, each representing a state House or Senate district, were chosen from 1,200 applicants from across the state.
Among those in attendance were two students representing South Jeffco: Sierra Farrar from D’Evelyn High School and Lauren Healy from Heritage High School.
“She was great. She seemed really wise and humble,” said Farrar, 15.
Farrar said Sotomayor’s story of coming from a humble background to become the first Hispanic member of the U.S. Supreme Court was nothing short of inspirational.
During her speech, Sotomayor encouraged the youngsters to take risks and to not be afraid of saying three simple words: “I don’t know.”
“I was in third grade. Every single time I didn’t know something, I had enough confidence to say, ‘I don’t know.’ That takes courage, and most people don’t have it,” Sotomayor said. “But it’s something you don’t need a special skill to do.”
“One thing that got with me was her message to take risks, and that she wasn’t afraid to say she didn’t know something,” Farrar said. “That actually makes a lot of sense. If we all said we didn’t know something when we didn’t, we’d be really better off.”
Farrar was impressed that Sotomayor spoke at the podium for just a few minutes — she spent much of her time walking among the students and answering their questions.
“It made us feel like she wanted to be part of the group,” Farrar said.
Sotomayor took questions from the kids for a majority of the hour she was scheduled to speak and stopped only when she was told the event needed to end. The questions ranged from how she overcame a difficult childhood and what she loved to do as a child to how racial profiling affects police and court decisions.
After the event, Sotomayor helped open the new Judicial Learning Center in the building and then stayed for photos with every youngster who waited in line to meet her.
“It was really inspirational and definitely something I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Farrar said.
Contact Ramsey Scott at email@example.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22, and follow him on Twitter @RamseyColumbine.