U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor draws a crowd in Springfield


U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor in Springfield on Sept. 9.

Dahlia Cruz, Staff Writer

SPRINGFIELD – More than 100 American International College students joined a packed house at the Mass Mutual Center recently for a talk with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The hall was filled almost to capacity with 3,200 people, many being from the Pioneer Valley and students and faculty from local schools and colleges.

In a talk that was conversational and cozy, with comfortable chairs set on stage Justice Sotomayor was interviewed by Ilana Rovner, the first woman to be appointed as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

Sotomayor is the first Latina to hold the seat in the nation’s highest court.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor in Springfield on September 9.

The event was the first of the season in a series of talks organized by The Springfield Public Forum held free to the public. The guest speakers range from authors to political analysts to children’s educators.

An impressive guest to the city of Springfield, Justice Sotomayor is not only the third woman elected to the court, but also the first person of Hispanic descent. She was inducted in 2009.

Justice Sotomayor spoke as an author, regarding her bestselling memoir, “My Beloved World.” She answered questions about her struggles and lessons learned from her experiences, from the hardships of childhood to the challenges of a political career. She discussed issues such as growing up with diabetes, where she had to learn discipline and appreciation for daily niceties in life. She also reviewed her beliefs on affirmative action, noting that some people’s upbringing has prevented them from understanding how to take advantage of the opportunities given to themselves and others, and affirmative action levels the playing field.

Sotomayor got good grades from AIC students and faculty who attended.

Kaniyah Nash, a junior majoring in Political Science at AIC and a Springfield native, was proud of the event and grateful for having an opportunity to attend.

“I’m glad that my school offers me these kinds of opportunities because this is honestly a big deal,”Nash said.

She added, “I’ll definitely be reading her memoir.”

Justice Sotomayor was an appealing and heartfelt speaker. She noted her tendency to fidget and, to the surprise and appreciation of the audience, she began to walk through the aisles, shaking hands as she spoke. She did so for almost for the whole of her time, regardless of the probable discomfort of her security detail. Nash was even able to get an impressive selfie with the Justice smiling in the background.

Justice Sotomayor with Ilana Rovner of the U.S. Appeals Court for the Seventh Circuit
Justice Sotomayor with Ilana Rovner of the U.S. Appeals Court for the Seventh Circuit

Robin Varnum, an English professor at AIC and published author, also attended the speaking. She was very impressed that Justice Sotomayor refused to stand on stage and came down to the audience to interact, to demonstrate her accessibility.

“I used the example in my class the next day. I spoke about Aristotle and how he said there are three ways a speaker can appeal to an audience. One way is through logic and another is by appealing to emotions. The third way is by presenting himself or herself as a person of good character. She represented herself as someone of good character and I think that’s why everybody responded so well.”

The Rev. John P. McDonagh of the Dexter Counseling Center said he found the event inspiring.

“Soni Sotomayor presented herself as a focused person nourished in a healthy nightly practice,” McDonagh said.

“Before going to bed, she told the crowd: ‘I ask myself two questions: ‘What have I learned today?’ and ‘Whom have I helped today?’ If I cannot name what I have learned or whom I have helped, I turn on the internet. If I have not learned anything, I turn on the internet and learn something. If I have not helped someone, I go into email and reach out to someone who is struggling or challenged.”

McDonagh added, “Justice Sotomayor’s nightly self review keeps her on task: to learn about our world and help people. She offers us all an accessible way to keep true to ourselves.”

The Springfield Public Forum was no doubt pleased with the amount of people in attendance that represented the diversity of Springfield with the differences in age, race, and professions. The event should promote a good turnout for the remaining events.