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At University of Miami, Justice Sonia Sotomayor gets real

From her days as a young girl in the Bronx being raised by her mother after the death of her father to becoming the first Hispanic on the highest judicial body in the country, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor told the story of her journey before a captivated audience at the University of Miami on Friday night.

Sotomayor spoke with University of Miami President Donna E. Shalala at the BankUnited Center to University of Miami students, Coral Gables residents and perhaps a future Supreme Court justice about the inspiration behind her recently published memoir My Beloved World.

“Love and passion, that is the only way you do something well,” Sotomayor said. “Do a few things, but do them well.”

Sotomayor, 58, spoke of the many things that inspired her to share her story with the world, one of which was in responses to questions she hadn’t expected during her confirmation process, such as how children cope when a parent dies, especially if they don’t have a mother like hers.

“I began to understand that I couldn’t talk to every child in the country,” Sotomayor said. “I could give them the answers in a book.”

One child she did embrace and speak with on Friday evening was a young girl in the audience named Madeline. Madeline, who was introduced by Shalala, and Sotomayor turned out to have one thing in common: a love for Nancy Drew.

Sotomayor credits the lessons she learned from the fictional tales of a young girl detective as one of the motivations for her successful career.

“When she [Nancy Drew] was trying to solve people’s problems,” Sotomayor told Madeline, “she was trying to help people.”

“I think too many young lawyers forget that the law is the noblest profession you can enter,” Sotomayor said. “What you do is helping people.”

When asked what other profession she would have ever considered going into, Sotomayor said there was not one. “This fish found her pond, and she ain’t changing it,” Sotomayor said.

Shalala questioned Sotomayor about her life as a diabetic, which her memoir speaks of at great length.

“If you have diabetes and want to live a full life, you figure out how to have both things,” Sotomayor said.

She was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at 8 and she credits living with the chronic illness with teaching her discipline. “Every moment of every day I am self-monitoring inside,” Sotomayor said.

That constant discipline, she said, teaches you to do things like monitoring diet, something she feels everybody should do.

With many students in the audience, she was asked about her scariest experience in law school.

“Being there,” Sotomayor chuckled. “If you think you are smart in college, you realize how dumb you are.”