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900 Students Attend Everybody Reads with Sonia Sotomayor

[by WITS intern Jamie Carr]

On Tuesday evening, yellow buses lined the back entrance of the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, transporting 900 high school students from all over Multnomah County to the Everybody Reads lecture with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayer. Students joined with the wider Portland community for the annual event, hosted by Literary Arts in partnership with the Multnomah County Library and the Library Foundation. Bookstores Powell’s and Barnes & Noble offered Sotomayor’s book at a discount prior to the event. This year, the Everybody Reads lecture was sold out. As WITS staff greeted excited students and their teachers, another 1,000 people gathered across the street at the Portland Art Museum for a live simulcast of the event. Needless to say, the Park Blocks were buzzing.

After being welcomed with a standing ovation, Justice Sotomayor spoke for over an hour about writing My Beloved World. She also talked about reading, attributing her success to growing up with a love of books. “Books open up the possibility of dreaming,” she said. “They give you the power to understand what’s possible.” She urged students to write, to take notes when family members share their stories over the holidays. Justice Sotomayor, who said she never imagined she would be a Supreme Court Justice, let alone have a book on the New York Times bestseller list, told the students in the room, “I hope that someday you all have the opportunity to stand on a stage and look out,” she said.

When the lecture ended, Andrew Proctor, Executive Director of Literary Arts, led a Q&A session with the Justice, choosing questions that audience members had written down on note cards. The first card was from a student at Franklin. Lily wanted to know what one piece of advice the Justice would give herself as a high school freshman. “To not be afraid so much,” responded Sotomayor. Fear of failure, she believes, is debilitating because it can keep us from trying things that are challenging. “And from challenges we become better,” she continued. “We grow stronger.” She would also tell her younger self to learn everything she could about things she knew nothing about.

Other questions ranged from dealing with sexism on the bench to the fictional character she identifies with most. Despite the sad ending of the book, Sotomayor named Ralph in Lord of the Flies who tries to keep the rest of the kids treating each other well. She said that book taught her how rules are critical to survival. It also gave her a sense of the good and bad in the world, and that good people sometimes do bad things. In her adult life, she would come to learn this again.

Sotomayor said that her biggest challenge is learning to live better with the responsibility of the job. “Even when I’m on the winning side, I can’t forget there are going to be people on the other side who will suffer because of the decisions I make.” This, along with her refusal to tell the audience who the smartest Justice is, spoke to her diplomacy. She did, however, admit that Scalia is the funniest, by far. Finally, she thanked the students at Roosevelt High School who had written her letters and pledged to respond back soon. All in all, it was an inspiring event!

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