Wilbraham & Monson Academy made the absolute most of a rare opportunity Sept. 9 when the Upper School attended an event in downtown Springfield with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
The real thrill, though, came for the 23 Academy students who were invited to be part of a 30-minute Question & Answer session with Justice Sotomayor prior to the main lecture, which was held at the MassMutual Center as part of the WMA-sponsored Springfield Public Forum.
Students in the higher levels of the Academy's Spanish classes and WMA's Global Scholars were among 50 people at the light and social Q&A venue. Morayma Linarez '16, Colin O'Brien '16, Nick Leone '17 and Anike Tella '16 asked questions and had their respective photo taken with Justice Sotomayor before the Academy had a group photo taken with the third female and first Latino to be appointed to the country's highest court.
"Twenty-three of our students got to take part in a Q&A, where Justice Sotomayor really opened the floor to the students," Head of School Brian Easler said. "There was no scripting, she took all questions from the students, answered them genuinely and with integrity and really developed a rapport with the students. It was extraordinarily meaningful."
It was particularly meaningful to Morayma, who wrote a paper in her WMA Freshmen Foundations class on Justice Sotomayor. Morayma, sitting in the front row, was the first person to ask a question.
"It was the best opportunity WMA could have ever given me," Morayma beamed. "She's my role model. From Freshmen Foundations, I wrote a paper on her because we had to write a paper on our role model. Just being able to see her in person and hug and talk to her was the best thing in the world."
Nick, Kiana Smith '17 and Mr. Easler, as well as WMA Spanish teachers Kevin Kane and Melody Rivera, had dinner with Justice Sotomayor after the Q&A and before the featured event.
"I thought she was very approachable," Nick said. "She set a good example for everyone by saying if you work hard you can be whatever you want to be without having to be snobby or acting as if you're above anyone else. She seemed like she could be someone's grandmother or aunt in the room. She was a cool lady."
Justice Sotomayor drew the crowd of 3,800 in by walking up and down the aisles of the MassMutual Center, repeatedly shaking hands and touching people on the shoulder while she addressed the audience with her easy-going tone and demeanor.
Ms. Rivera loved every minute of her time spent in the presence of her role model. The backgrounds of both women run parallel, from childhood to their present professions.
"Both of us had to wrestle with the language barrier and the hardship that experience presented," Ms. Rivera explained. "We are both women and we are both women who have chosen their life work to be dedicated to public service. When she spoke about her passion and her love of helping people, my heart skipped a beat because I understood fully what she meant. The passion to serve the community and to help others is and has always been a driving force in everything I do and one of the major reasons why I have chosen to make teaching and education my life's work.
"I have always, and will continue to view her as a positive example of the person I would like to become."
Here are some quotes from Justice Sotomayor from the Q&A and main discussion:
- "The more you know the more people will like you."
- "(Hispanics can break the stereotype) by not living up to the stereotype."
- "I'm here with you. A few of my colleagues wouldn't be doing this."
- "That's the main thing about being on the court – your voice can be heard."
- "It's important to put yourself in other people's shoes, and to give people the benefit of the doubt."
- "Be honest with yourself. Identify what you did wrong."
- "I wanted to tell a story (in my book) of who Sonia was.
- "(The Supreme Court Justices are) human beings trying to do the best job we can."
- "I wanted to write a book that would bring people hope. The reality is if I can do it, you can do it, too."
- "Every day we live our lives is precious."
- "My diabetes gave me motivation to get the most out of life."
- "Work with and for people who will guide you in a positive way."
- "I'm not worried about the roads I didn't take; I'm just glad I took the one I did."
- "We're nine people (on the Supreme Court), and we're going to come to different answers because the law is unclear."
- "I am completely and utterly passionate about our constitution."
- "As a society we can correct ourselves. Change can happen."
- "Every day I realize the world doesn't revolve around me."