By Nicole Greenstein C’14
Nearly 1,000 people from the Penn and Penn Law communities convened at Irvine Auditorium on April 5 for Golkin Hall’s dedication event, A Conversation with U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Sotomayor spoke about her thoughts on the law, legal education and life.
After sharing her personal experiences with faculty, alumni, students and staff on this historic occasion, Sotomayor and the academic procession made its way to the Ribbon Cutting ceremony for breathtaking views of the new Golkin Hall and a glimpse at the future of Penn Law.
While an onstage brass quintet played the sonorous music of Gabrieli, Bach and Handel to open the event, Sotomayor entered the auditorium alongside many other distinguished guests: Penn Law Dean Michael Fitts, University of Pennsylvania President Dr. Amy Gutmann, the Poet Laureate of the Library of Congress Dr. Daniel Hoffman, and Chairman of the Trustees David Cohen L’81, and Philadelphia City Councilman William Green L’95.
From left to right:
David Cohen L’81, Chairman of the Trustees, Penn; Justice Sotomayor; President Amy Gutmann; and Dean Fitts.
Justice Sotomayor talks with students from the Law School’s Latin American Law Students Association (LALSA.)
Dean Fitts presents a new scholarship in Sotomayor’s name for students aspiring to the judiciary.
The ribbon-cutting at Golkin Hall, with Perry Golkin, W’74, WG’74, L’78 and Donna Golkin, WG’77.
“Today marks the culmination of a decade-long effort to transform Penn Law,” Dean Michael Fitts said as he welcomed the audience at the convocation ceremony. “With this dedication of Golkin Hall, we have completed our vision for the finest urban law campus in America.”
Fitts added that the creation of Golkin Hall focused on one goal: to educate Penn’s students to become “the finest lawyers, problem solvers, and leaders they can be in service in to the society.” Whether it be through the pursuit of better access to justice, better healthcare, business entrepreneurship or human rights, Fitts said, Golkin Hall symbolizes the school’s vision for the role of lawyers in society today as well as for generations to come.
Sotomayor and Fitts soon sat at center stage for their conversation, where Sotomayor discussed how her childhood dream transformed into a reality.
Ever since she read detective novels like Nancy Drew and watched television lawyers like Perry Mason, Sotomayor knew from a young age that she wanted to be a lawyer. This passion continued from her childhood through high school, where Sotomayor joined debate teams and became active in student government.
However, it was not until studying the law in college that Sotomayor realized why the law was truly tailored to her personality and interests.
“At the end, what law is, is service to people,” she explained. “No matter what kind of law you practice, whether it’s public or private, non-profit or for profit, government or not, you are helping people and institutions manage relationships.”
“And it became clear to me at least, that I’m fueled by that,” Sotomayor added. “Personally, I enjoy working with people to help solve their problems.”
In addition to reflecting on her own past experiences, Sotomayor also cited life lessons she learned to offer firsthand advice to law students in the audience.
Aside from some of the more basic guidelines like earning good grades, having extensive writing experience, and finding a law professor mentor, Sotomayor stressed that perhaps the most important piece of advice she could give is to follow your passions to truly do something meaningful.
“Involve yourself in something that’s important to you, and make a difference,” she said. “Undertake whatever project you want — I don’t judge students’ passions by whether they’re politically correct or not…I judge the students by have they made a difference in whatever project they’ve undertaken.”
After Sotomayor’s talk, Fitts announced a new scholarship named in honor of Sotomayor, for future students aspiring to follow in her footsteps.
Sotomayor, who in the words of Dr. Amy Gutmann “rose from a public housing project in the Bronx to the bench of the supreme court,” would not have been able to become the first Latina and third female Justice without scholarships for her education.
“I relied on the largess of people like the Golkins who created my American dream, and I am so grateful to this school for passing it forward to someone else,” Sotomayor said.
Philadelphia City Councilman William Green also joined the stage to officially declare April 5th, 2012 as Penn Law Day. This dedication was made not only to recognize the formal opening of Golkin Hall, Green said, but also to honor “the contribution that the Penn Law School has made to the education of lawyers and the delivery of justice in our city, our country, and around the globe.”
Dean Fitts concluded the dedication ceremony with some thankful words to Sotomayor for being such a special part of this historic day. He explained that although one of the most intensely debated questions today is who should serve on the Supreme Court, what makes an admirable Supreme Court justice should not hinge on whether they are merely a liberal or a conservative.
“In the end, what we look for in a Supreme Court justice is a quality of mind, a sense of history, a sense of passion,” Fitts said. “Judge,” he added, turning to Sotomayor, “I think we’ve seen it on display in every way this afternoon.”