Humanities Moments

Sonia Sotomayor Finds Her Voice

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor
When my hero, Sonia Sotomayor, arrived at Princeton in 1972, she was a quietly diligent student, but one whose working-class background, ethnicity, and gender set her apart from most of her classmates. Princeton had only recently begun admitting women and there were very few Latinos (only 20) of either gender among its elite ranks.

During the spring of that first year, she took a class on Contemporary Latin America with historian Peter Winn, who — on grading her first paper — pointed out the idiomatic and grammatical errors she had made that were common for students whose first language, like hers, was Spanish. Sotomayor describes that first paper conference with Winn as a “light bulb” moment when she began to understand and appreciate how linguistic and cultural differences can create roadblocks and inequalities.

Sotomayor would eventually take four more courses with Winn during her career at Princeton and majored in history, studying English grammar books and classics of American literature over the summers so that she could refine not only her critical thinking skills but the ability to articulate her thoughts with power and precision.

In 1976, she graduated from Princeton Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude and as the recipient of the Pyne Prize — Princeton’s highest honor for a graduating senior — and entered law school at Yale.

Title

Sonia Sotomayor Finds Her Voice

Description

When my hero, Sonia Sotomayor, arrived at Princeton in 1972, she was a quietly diligent student, but one whose working-class background, ethnicity, and gender set her apart from most of her classmates. Princeton had only recently begun admitting women and there were very few Latinos (only 20) of either gender among its elite ranks.

During the spring of that first year, she took a class on Contemporary Latin America with historian Peter Winn, who — on grading her first paper — pointed out the idiomatic and grammatical errors she had made that were common for students whose first language, like hers, was Spanish. Sotomayor describes that first paper conference with Winn as a “light bulb” moment when she began to understand and appreciate how linguistic and cultural differences can create roadblocks and inequalities.

Sotomayor would eventually take four more courses with Winn during her career at Princeton and majored in history, studying English grammar books and classics of American literature over the summers so that she could refine not only her critical thinking skills but the ability to articulate her thoughts with power and precision.

In 1976, she graduated from Princeton Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude and as the recipient of the Pyne Prize — Princeton’s highest honor for a graduating senior — and entered law school at Yale.

Date

1972

Identifier

sonia-sotomayor-finds-her-voice

Location