The Honorable Sonia Sotomayor on Law and Hope

“You have to have some idealism to go into lawyering. You have to want to help people,” said Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the crowd gathered in the Student Union Ballroom. During the October 20 event, Sotomayor discussed how her memoir, “My Beloved World,” has given her a platform to talk about her passion—the law—and to share the stories of her life in order to help others, particularly young people. View the video.

In conversation with UC Berkeley Professor of Law Melissa Murray, who teaches constitutional law and clerked for Sotomayor on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, Sotomayor candidly recounted stories of adversity that spurred her on instead of knocking her down. She also admitted that there are “a lot of emotions that come along with being a Supreme Court justice,” and that she often has to pinch herself to make sure it’s all real.

While she now walks the corridors of the White House (and occasionally spends time at the homes of celebrities like Jennifer Lopez), she said that staying connected to her family and bringing them along with her on her professional journey keeps her grounded. Everyone needs help sometimes, Sotomayor explained.

Throughout the event, Sotomayor spoke directly to the students seated in the first several rows in front of her. When asked about balancing family needs with pursuing an education, she explained to one student, who she welcomed on stage to take a photo with her, that getting an education is the best way to support your family in the long term, no matter the immediate needs. Most of you are here [at San Jose State], despite the economy, because you have hope, she said.

“There isn’t a student in this room who should ever give up, “ said Sotomayor. “You got into college. You’re here! If you can defy all odds to get in, you’ve got what it takes to make it.”

Official Portrait of Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Supreme Court Justice to Speak at SJSU

Sotomayor poster

“My mother believed education was the key to everything in the world,” Justice Sotomayor said.

Media contact: Pat Lopes Harris, 408-924-1748

[Editor’s note: Tickets to see Justice Sotomayor at the SJSU Student Union ballroom are sold out. The event will be streamed live from the SJSU home page. 

In addition, arrangements have been made to allow others to view the event via closed circuit television at Morris Dailey Auditorium. No tickets will be required for viewers in Morris Dailey.]

SAN JOSE, CA – As Professor Maria Luisa Alaniz read Sonia Sotomayor’s autobiography, she recognized a strong connection between the associate U.S. Supreme Court justice and San Jose State.

“Her story is the story of our students,” Alaniz said, so she put these observations in writing in a letter of invitation to Sotomayor. Her thoughts must have struck a chord.

The Honorable Sonia Sotomayor will speak at 4 p.m. Oct. 20 in the SJSU Student Union. She will sit down for an on-stage conversation with UC Berkeley Professor of Law Melissa Murray. Murray teaches constitutional law and clerked for Sotomayor on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.

Beating the odds

The speaking engagement will punctuate this semester’s Campus Reading Program, which includes four events and a series of discussion groups focusing on Sotomayor’s book, “My Beloved World.”

In nominating Judge Sotomayor to the highest court in the land, President Obama pointed out that her life story was the embodiment of the American dream,” a New York Times book review said.

“She grew up poor in a Bronx housing project at a time when gangs were carving up the neighborhood, learned she had juvenile diabetes when she was 7 and lost her father a couple of years later.

“She would go on to Princeton (where she won the prestigious Pyne Prize), Yale Law School, the Manhattan district attorney’s office and ultimately the Supreme Court, where she became the nation’s first Hispanic justice.”


Professor Alaniz observed Sotomayor’s persistence reflects that of many SJSU students.

In my 26 years of teaching, I have been amazed by the resiliency of our students, who work so hard to get through school,” she said.

Once reluctant to share her personal story, Sotomayor is now eager to help young people following in her footsteps. For this reason, event organizers will reserve the first 20 rows of seats at the campus event for students.

Sponsors include the Educational Opportunity Program, Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley, Cesar E. Chavez Community Action Center, College of Social Sciences, the Department of Mexican American Studies, the Department of Sociology and Interdisciplinary Social Studies, the Campus Reading Program, and the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program.

San Jose State — Silicon Valley’s largest institution of higher learning with 30,000 students and 3,740 employees — is part of the California State University system. SJSU’s 154-acre downtown campus anchors the nation’s 10th largest city.

Resilience and Self Belief: "I AM EOP"

Finding Resilience and Self Belief in “I AM EOP”

Resilience and Self Belief: "I AM EOP"

EOP’s annual graduation ceremony is among SJSU’s most inspirational spring events (Stanley Olszewski photo).

Why see “I AM EOP,” a performance based on real student stories?

Because the focus will be on the Educational Opportunity Program, but the stories we’ll hear are about all of us at SJSU.

“Most of the stories being performed involve a theme of resilience and self belief,” said EOP Director Debra Y. Griffith. “All students interviewed have had to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles to get to where they are today.

Resilience and Self Belief: "I AM EOP"

“In the stories, we learn about the diversity of life experiences within our student population and the things one can accomplish through hard work and perseverance,” said EOP Director Debra Griffith.

“In the stories, we learn about the diversity of life experiences within our student population and the things one can accomplish through hard work and perseverance.

“Our students are more than just the labels assigned to them (for example, first-generation college student, low-income, historically disadvantaged) or the statistical data that often obscures their journey. ‘I AM EOP’ is the vessel we are using to provide a platform for their voices to be heard.”

Two more reasons to attend: EOP Legacy Awards will be given to former President Don Kassing and Provost Gerry Selter.

Kassing and Selter were instrumental in saving EOP after the program was nearly dismantled after state budget cuts ten years ago.

“Without their institutional will to find new funding, this wouldn’t have been possible no matter how hard the EOP staff worked,” Griffith recalled.

“I AM EOP” will be held Oct. 17 in Morris Dailey Auditorium. A reception begins at 6 p.m. The performance starts at 7 p.m.

Tickets are on sale now at the Event Center box office ($10 general admission, $5 students). All proceeds will go toward EOP scholarships.

woman and daughter in graduation outfit hugging

Educational Opportunity Program Convocation: “Inspire”

EOP Commencement

Vanessa Gordon addresses the audience after earning the Outstanding Service Award at the 2013 EOP Graduation Ceremony (Stanley Olszewski photo).

(This week, SJSU Today’s small but mighty band of writers and photographers will take a peek at graduation receptions and convocations campuswide so we can share with you the excitement of the more than 8,000 members of the Class of 2013. We’ll post more photos on Facebook.)

The Tommie Smith and John Carlos Statue towered over attendees of the Educational Opportunity Program graduation ceremony, as participants, staff and guests enjoyed an array of foods and drinks prior to the event.

On this breezy May evening, the voices of individuals who have come so far echoed back toward nearby Clark Hall. Keynote speaker Shaun Tai, ’07 Interdisciplinary Studies, shared his voice as a Spartan who founded Oakland Digital, a nonprofit organization “that provides digital literacy education to small businesses and professional development training to students” in Oakland and the rest of the East Bay.

“Find your inspiration,” Tai said. “Inspire your community and inspire the world, starting today and starting right now.”

Coleetta McElroy, ’97 Public Administration, introduced these newly minted alumni to the benefits of the SJSU Alumni Association, announcing that EOP had taken care of a one-year membership for all.

McElroy, SJSU director of financial aid and scholarship, also called up each individual one by one. Many of the 54 graduates listed on the back of the program were in attendance with their loved ones.

Each person received one to two minutes behind the podium to share his or her appreciation. Some comments elicited chuckles such as thanking EOP for providing free food over the years, while more than one student’s gratitude for their mothers encouraged tears.

Inspiring words and inspirational people walked hand in hand among the group. Graduate Van Nguyen, a sharply dressed bespectacled man who identified himself as being in his 80s, shared a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quote: “Not everybody can be famous, but everybody can be great, because greatness is determined by service.”

Graduates Vanessa Gordon and Long Kieu earned the Outstanding Community Service Award and the Maria D.L.C. Romo Award, respectively.

Gordon thanked her parents, saying, “I want to make them proud and show that I could do it.”

Kieu gave a shout-out to his younger sister in the audience, who found out she was attending his ceremony at the last minute. “I want to show her, ‘You’re an inspiration to me,'” he said. “… Because of you, I want to be a role model for you.”

“Keep the Faith” Educational Opportunity Program Graduation

“Keep the Faith" Educational Opportunity Program Convocation

“Keep the Faith” Educational Opportunity Program Graduation

The tribute statue of Tommie Smith and John Carlos served as the perfect backdrop to the convocation’s center-stage (Christina Olivas photo).

By Amanda Holst, Public Affairs Assistant

(This week, SJSU Today’s small but mighty band of writers and photographers will take a peek at graduation receptions and convocations campuswide so we can share with you the excitement of the more than 8,000 members of the Class of 2012. We’ll post more photos on Facebook.)

A handful of bright Spartan-blue cloth reception tables scattered the garden plot foyer outside Clark Hall late yesterday afternoon, as graduates and guests enjoyed continental hors d’oeuvres and the company of family friends and colleagues awaiting the Educational Opportunity Program graduation ceremony. Smooth jazz radiated in the background and birds and tree squirrels didn’t seem to mind sharing their space on the lawn for this special event.

The tribute statue of Tommie Smith and John Carlos served as the perfect backdrop to the convocation’s center-stage as EOP Director Debra Griffith, President Qayoumi’s Chief of Staff Dorothy Poole, and other EOP staff recognized 2012 graduates. Guest speakers included scholar-activist Harry Edwards, former San José mayor Ron Gonzales and graduating senior Crystal Cooper.

Edwards spoke on the issues around equal opportunity and diversity. He implored, “Whatever your future path might be, keep the faith and continue to struggle.” Gonzales spoke on the components of success and reminded graduates to “live each day to its fullest, as it is truly a gift.”

Awards were presented to outstanding graduates Myphuong Ngo and Kayla Martinez for excellence in community service and academic achievement in the memory of Maria D.L.C. Romo.

The commencement ended with an inspirational and compelling invictus from Master of Ceremonies Ezekiel Staples, who brought effortless vibrance and cheer-rising energy.

portrait of Art Dunklin

Arthur Dunklin Diversity Award Winners Named

portrait of Art Dunklin

The award recognizes individuals who reflect the work of the late Arthur Dunklin, an SJSU staff member who was dedicated to creating a welcoming, inclusive and supportive campus climate.

By Pat Lopes Harris, Media Relations Director

President Mohammad Qayoumi and the Campus Climate Committee are pleased to announce the recipients of the first Arthur Dunklin Diversity Awards. There are four awards, one each for a student, staff member, faculty member and administrator.

“It was gratifying to receive so many nominations of individuals who embody the principles of inclusive excellence,” the committee said. “Thank yous go to all the faculty, staff, students, and administrators who help to make San Jose State University a place of deep mutual respect for all.”

The Campus Climate Committee received nominations and reviewed the qualifications of all nominees. The recipients are:

  • Yan Yin K. Choy, Student, Environmental Studies
  • Maribel Martinez, Staff, Associated Students
  • Kathleen Roe, Professor, Health Science
  • Debra Griffith, Administrator, Educational Opportunity Program

Please join us in congratulating these individuals at the awards ceremony scheduled for 4-5 p.m. Wednesday, October 12, at the Smith/Carlos sculpture lawn area. Please RSVP by emailing Melanie Schlitzkus at

Yan Yin K. Choy has been studying environmental studies and anthropology with a focus on the barriers and benefits of sustainable food systems, service-learning, and community engagement. She has been empowered by her peers, mentors, and kindred to advocate for diversity, human rights, and food security through spoken word, community theatre, and nonviolent direct action. Yan Yin now serves as the Associated Students of SJSU director of student rights and responsibilities, community intern with the SJSU Women’s Resource Center organizer for the 10th annual performance of “The Vagina Monologues,” and multimedia coordinator of the first South Bay Womyn’s Conference.

Maribel Martinez joined the staff of the Associated Students of SJSU in 2007 as the first full-time employee to head the Cesar E. Chavez Community Action Center. Prior to SJSU, she worked in the non-profit field focusing on leadership development, community organizing and outreach. She is an alumna of SJSU with studies is political science, sociology and applied anthropology, and is a former AS President. As an artist, Ms. Martinez uses theatre, spokenword, music and visual arts to explore complex social issues in the community.

Dr. Kathleen Roe earned all her degrees from the UC Berkeley, culminating in a doctorate in public health, before joining the Department of Health Science in 1988 and serving as chair since 2001. Over her career, Dr. Roe has been involved in many community-based education and research projects including Salud Familiar en McKinley; the Intercambio of the Department of Health Science, the McKinley community, and a pueblo of artisans in Arrazola, Oaxaca, Mexico; and, for over 12 years, the process evaluator for the San Francisco HIV Prevention Planning Council. Among her numerous awards, Dr. Roe is the recipient of the College of Applied Sciences and Arts’ Faculty Award for Commitment to Equity and Diversity, the Outstanding Professor of SJSU in 2002, and in May, Dean Charles Bullock selected Salud Familiar as the 2011 recipient of the prestigious Dean’s Award, the College of Applied Sciences and Art’s highest recognition.

Debra Y. Griffith is the current director of the Educational Opportunity Program at SJSU. From 2001-2003, she served as a resident director in University Housing Services. She was named the director of the Office of Student Conduct and Ethical Development in 2003, where she managed student discipline and led educational, proactive programming for seven years. Ms. Griffith received a bachelor’s from Long Island University-Brooklyn Campus and a master’s from SJSU. Currently, she is a doctoral candidate in organizational leadership at Argosy University.