Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Sotomayor Tells Law School Grads to Follow Passion

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Sotomayor Tells Law School Grads to Follow Passion

Article excerpt

A murmur and then a cheer went through the graduating class at the Yale University Law School. Someone had just joined faculty and administrators on the podium. Sonia Sotomayor, U.S. Supreme Court justice and 1979 Yale Law School graduate, was back to collect an honorary doctor of laws degree.

It was a heady experience for those 200-plus May 20 J.D. recipients getting career advice from one of nine ultimate arbiters of justice. For the diverse audience, it was as intimate an introduction to the nerve center of American jurisprudence as most of us could ever get.

Ms. Sotomayor didn't hold out her job -- for as few justices as there are, and as seldom as they turn over -- as one to which the graduates could aspire. The first Hispanic justice on the highest court talked instead of how to make career choices. She recalled 34 years ago sitting in their shoes at graduation, wracked with anxiety about her plan to join the New York district attorney's office.

"It worked for me," she concluded, "because I liked the values of those I met."

And that was her point. Values, rather than resume-building, should shape career choices -- propelled by considerations of what kinds of people one wants to spend a life and share a work environment with. Those choices should hinge on a vision of one's self as greater than one is now, on a passion uniquely yours. Surround yourself with people who will help you grow and challenge you, she urged.

And when the job gets boring, as even a Supreme Court justice's can, Ms. Sotomayor urged, "Get past the drudgery by setting a standard for yourself." It might be writing "beautiful, elegant, persuasive papers." It might be comforting people. "Lawyering is service," she said and urged, "Do it with honor and integrity."

It's an interesting time to graduate from law school, as 46,400 J.D. recipients in America did last year -- up 5 percent from 2011. In a tight job market, some see it as a certain path to lucrative work. Yet I have also seen idealistic friends get law degrees in hopes of changing the world, only to struggle with disillusionment or mountains of student debt. Earlier, I wrote of the overselling of law schools that lured students at upward of $43,000 a year on empty promises of later work. …

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