Forging justice and future Justices in our classrooms

Adam Schmidt, Director of Talent and Strategy

As an educator, I felt a little out of place Thursday night at the University of Wisconsin Law School’s annual Kastenmeier Lecture in Madison. The auditorium was packed with law students, lawyers, judges and inquiring undergrads eager to hear from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor on issues related to the Court and our broader legal system.

I, however, was motivated to glean how her background, especially her Catholic education, has fueled her career and affects her work. I drew new inspiration from the deep, sincere humanity expressed throughout her remarks.

When asked about criminal law, Sotomayor emphasized the importance of education in preventing crime: “I don’t give up hope in rehabilitation, but it’s hard work. It is much better to invest in kids when they’re young.” She also relayed a story in which one of her Supreme Court colleagues asked: “Sonya, how do we make more of you?” Sotomayor said she responded by pointing to high-quality educational and after-school tutoring programs, a few of which she is personally involved in Washington, D.C.

Sotomayor has also spoken out previously about how her own education. She described her grade school experience at Blessed Sacrament Parish School in The Bronx, where she was valedictorian, to The New York Times in 2013:

“You know how important those eight years were? It’s symbolic of what it means for all our families, like my mother, who were dirt-poor. She watched what happened to my cousins in public school and worried if we went there, we might not get out. So she scrimped and saved. It was a road of opportunity for kids with no other alternative.”

Reflecting on Sotomayor’s story reminded me of many of our students, families and neighbors here in Milwaukee – and the fundamental role educators play in forging justice and future Justices.

There are many “more” Sonya Sotomayors in our classrooms right now – and I won’t soon forget how our commitment to providing the highest quality academic and faith formation programs matters to each of them and the future of our society.