On Monday, Sept. 2, more than 650 first-year students—members of the Smith Class of 2017—will gather in the living rooms of their respective new campus houses and discuss, with a faculty or staff member, a book about a woman who overcame a precarious childhood to climb to the pinnacle of the American justice system.
United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir My Beloved World is the selection for this year’s first-year summer reading requirement.
Among the leaders of this year’s discussions, which will take place from 3 to 4 p.m. on September 2, will be President Kathleen McCartney, also entering her first year at Smith.
Each year, incoming students are assigned a book to read during the summer, chosen by a committee of staff and faculty members, to discuss in house groups as part of orientation. The activity presents the first opportunity for students, faculty and staff to engage with each other as an intellectual, scholarly community.
“We seek compelling readings that we hope will engage students socially and intellectually,” notes Jane Stangl, Dean of the First-Year Class and a member of the reading selection committee. “Sotomayor’s book offers Smithies an acute understanding of the challenges of being an educated person, as well as a narrative of a deeper understanding of herself. We hope students find her story exemplary in everyday and common ways, and that ultimately they are motivated by it.”
My Beloved World tells Sotomayor’s story of a childhood filled with obstacles, such as an alchoholic father who would die when she was 9, and a devoted-but-overburdened mother, and of the refuge she took from the turmoil at home with her passionately spirited paternal grandmother. It was when young Sotomayor was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes that she recognized she must ultimately depend on herself.
Sonia determined to become a lawyer, a dream that would sustain her on an unlikely course, from valedictorian of her high school class to highest honors at Princeton, Yale Law School, the New York County District Attorney’s office, private practice, and appointment to the Federal District Court all before the age of 40.
Sotomayor was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Barack Obama in May 2009.
For Stangl, the book’s sentiment, and a notion that can be understood by many incoming students, is captured in Sotormayor’s preface to her story, when she writes: “The challenges I have faced—among them material poverty, chronic illness and being raised by a single mother—are not uncommon, but neither have they kept me from uncommon achievements.”