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Ashleigh Joplin/MEDILL

Janet Olivera waited for an entrance ticket with more than 750 other fans.

Passionate fans pack appearance by Justice Sotomayor at Washington Library

by Ashleigh M. Joplin
Jan 31, 2013


Ashleigh Joplin/MEDILL

Those who arrived early were given this ticket for the main room; others were put in an overflow room.


Ashleigh Joplin/MEDILL

Justice Sonia Sotomayor walking through the crowd during the Q&A session.

Janet Olivera arrived at the Harold Washington Library more than three hours before Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor was to take the stage to talk about her new book “My Beloved World.”

As the justice’s self-proclaimed No. 1 fan she only wanted one thing, a picture.

“I can’t take a picture with her!” Olivera said in disbelief when she was told no one could take pictures with the justice during the book signing Wednesday.

“I am really bummed out. I deleted pictures” to make space on the camera, said Olivera, who was still lucky enough to get one of the closest seats to the stage.

An estimated 500 admirers stood to welcome the justice as she and Mayor Rahm Emanuel exchanged an embrace after he delivered a touching introduction that emphasized her everyman roots. More than 200 additional people watched this scene on a projector screen from an overflow room.

“I don’t know any other justice that would get this type of turn out,” Emanuel said. Those in the crowd nodded their heads and laughed in agreement. “It is a testament to why Obama selected her. She brings a heartbeat to the Supreme Court.”

A heartbeat not only to the highest court in the United States, but to many that see her as an inspiration and role model for Latinos and women.

“To see her in the highest court in the land I feel very proud even though I don’t know her,” said Michelle Pantoja, a junior at DePaul University. “I am not her, but I could vicariously live through her.”

During the event the Sotomayor held a small Q-and-A session from preselected questions and read excerpts from her book. In the first reading she describes the importance of having a role model and how “meeting your first role model can show you there can be a path to success.”

Sotomayor's memoir depicts her rise from a difficult childhood in the Bronx in a single parent home after the death of her alcoholic father. She writes candidly about her diagnosis with juvenile diabetes and the failure of her marriage. But her determination to become a lawyer pushed her to become valedictorian of her high school class, success in college and law, to her appointment as the first Hispanic woman on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Pantoja read the book before attending and said “Even though she [Sotomayor] made some mistakes, in the end it all ended up working out. When I think about how I am in school, and working, and how I am trying to graduate, sometimes it becomes hard, but I just look to her for inspiration.”

Olivera said her picture was taken a lot at the event, mainly due to the shirt she was wearing which read “Wise Latina” above a picture of Sotomayor. But not one of those pictures taken of her included the actual justice.

"The event was a life changing experience. I was just excited to hear her talk,” Olivera said. “We grew up in the same scenario, but she was in New York and we were in Chicago. If she can make it anyone can.”

More than 500 autographed books were sold at the event. The justice’s next stop will be in Miami, Fla., on Friday and conclude in Philadelphia, Pa. on March 1.