As a NASPA staff member I have the honor and privilege to meet and hear from a number of members, practitioners, researchers, and advocates who do amazing things to support students and push the field into new and promising directions. Now as a result of this year’s NASPA Annual Conference I am excited to say that I get to add United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor to my list of names.
For those who are unaware, Justice Sotomayor served as one of NASPA’s keynote speakers at this year’s conference, where her remarks were delivered in a Q&A interview style. And I bet if you talk to any of the 7,000 attendees that witnessed her address, they would agree that this session will go down in NASPA history as one of the best ever!
I continue to reflect on the words of wisdom Justice Sotomayor shared throughout her 45-minute session, still weeks after the conference. And the more I think about it, I begin to see how many of the points Justice Sotomayor made throughout her remarks translate well into our everyday work as student affairs professionals.
Below are a few quotes from Justice Sotomayor’s address that stuck with me the most.
Throughout Justice Sotomayor’s address she provided snippets of her unique journey to the highest court in the United States. She discussed the personal challenges she overcame, acknowledged some of the privileges she received, and openly shared the insecurities and doubts that surfaced when nominated to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. Her insecurities were partly due to critiques and criticisms she received from multiple people and channels that questioned her ability to serve in the role, despite her education, her years of experience, and her numerous accolades and accomplishments. However, after some self-reflection and encouragement, Justice Sotomayor realized that she had a greater purpose to fulfill. She was determined to prove to the naysayers, through her actions, that she is more than capable to handle the responsibilities and has earned the right to be in that role.
But what does this mean for our work? Just like Justice Sotomayor we all have a unique story on how we got to where we are today. And as we progress further along in our careers, we may encounter some naysayers or be questioned on our ability to handle a position or task we’ve been offered. We should not let this dissuade us from accepting a new opportunity, rather we should use it to motivate us to take actions that not only dismantle the assumptions placed upon us, but also allow us to model this behavior and practice to our colleagues, peers, and the students we serve.
Life fact: Big or small, challenging moments will occur. Every now and then we must battle busy periods on the job, juggle competing priorities between work and home, and/or deal with one of the many struggles that life can bring (life is hard at times!). However, if we’re lucky, we have friends and colleagues who are there to help us through the vicissitudes of life. For some of us, asking or accepting the help of others can spur uncomfortable feelings. Justice Sotomayor acknowledged that accepting help is one of the hardest things to do in life. However, we must change the mindset that we have to do everything by ourselves, or that we don’t want to “bother” anyone with our problems, or even that asking for help is a sign of weakness. A true friend or colleague wants us to be at our best (and we want to be too!), so when one of them offers assistance to alleviate some of the stress in of our lives – accept it. One day you’ll be able to return the favor.
No, Justice Sotomayor didn’t say this exact quote. This quote comes from the poem, “If” by Rudyard Kipling. However, Justice Sotomayor personified it perfectly during her session. Towards the beginning of her remarks, Justice Sotomayor got up from her chair, walked off the stage and down to the convention floor (with agile U.S. Secret Service officers closely guarding her), and proceeded to walk the aisles of the entire hall to greet and shake people’s hands ALL while simultaneously answering the questions from the interviewer.
Why was this important? Not only was the execution of it simply flawless, but she created a level of accessibility that is rarely seen from top-ranking government officials. More importantly, her gesture showed that she understands that she works for the people of this country. Seeing this was a good reminder that no matter how far we climb that professional ladder we must continue to make opportunities and time to engage with our students and colleagues in meaningful ways. Yes, we get busy (refer to previous quote) so it is even more important that we are intentional about how we do this. We may not be able to shake every student or staff member’s hand on campus, but we could revisit how we structure staff and committee meetings, consider open office hours, and/or how we deliver presentations to ensure we are creating a new level of accessibility and dialogue with the people that we need to hear from the most.
I could go on and on about Justice Sotomayor’s address, but I’ll stop here. “Thank you” Justice Sotomayor for sharing your story, showing us your grace and humility, and for making the 2018 NASPA Annual Conference a memorable one!