Stony Brook University freshmen and other outside guests filed their way into the Island Federal Credit Union Arena to listen to a Q&A between President Stanley and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Tuesday.
Sotomayor was the featured guest for this year’s University Commons Day. Over the summer, the freshman class was asked to read Sotomayor’s memoir, “My Beloved World,” in preparation for her visit. Students then submitted questions for her to answer regarding her life, college, career advice and overcoming obstacles.
“This book was my therapy,” Sotomayor said. After her first year on the Supreme Court in 2010, she decided to write “My Beloved World” to reflect her accomplishments as the first Hispanic justice to be appointed to the highest court in the United States of America. “In the process, I could hold onto who I was and why I was where I was.”
Sotomayor left her seat on stage to walk around and engage with the audience. She continued to address student questions read by Stanley while shaking hands with everyone she could reach.
“I thought it was very inspirational,” freshman biology major Afua Agyekum said on the event, “I’m also somebody who’s from the Bronx, so I understand where’s she’s coming from in her childhood and her upbringing. It’s also hard these days being a woman and a minority, and being in that high position is very inspiring to see her like that.”
In Sotomayor’s memoir, she speaks about her journey from the housing projects of the Bronx to the nation’s capital. During her talk, she held up her children’s book “Turning Pages,” to show students the illustrations depicting all the meaningful places in her life including the Bronx, Princeton and the Supreme Court steps.
“It is not where you start. It’s not even where you end up. For me it’s all about the process, the process of growing up, the process of changing your world each little step at a time,” Sotomayor said.
Many of the freshmen who wrote questions asked for Sotomayor’s advice on how to be successful in college and the future. She touched on a variety of topics ranging from when to get involved in extracurriculars to dealing with difficult people, using her coworkers on the bench as an example.
“Some of those guys really talk trash,” Sotomayor said, evoking laughter from the crowd. Later, she explained how she has learned to deal with people who offend her: “I found out that when people do that, taking them on in that moment is usually a bad idea. Let it simmer down… and then find a moment to have a quiet conversation.”
Freshman computer science major Leo Suppa said he took Sotomayor’s advice to heart. “A lot of it was relevant to us as college students,” he said. “I wasn’t sure how she was going to relate but talking about her experience in college, especially that question about [which] organizations she joined, that really I think helped me formulate my opinions on what I’m going to do in the future.”
Other students were not as satisfied with her answers, including freshman biology major David Richard Woodson. “These answers she gave seemed very scripted, they did not seem like they came from the heart,” said Woodson, “[I wanted] some good advice, not generic advice I can get from my mom.”
Sotomayor closed by encouraging the students to go to the polls this November. “I don’t care who you vote for, I just want you to be a voice of change.”
The audience responded with a standing ovation as Sotomayor left the arena.