Justice Sonia Sotomayor speaks with students at Rosa Parks Elementary/Photo: Mark Coplan, BUSD

Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor paid a surprise visit to Rosa Parks Elementary School in West Berkeley this morning. Sotomayor is in Berkeley to judge a moot court competition at the University of California Berkeley Law School, Boalt Hall, this evening. The competition has been moved to Zellerbach Hall because of the demand for tickets.

Sotomayor chose Rosa Parks because two children of law school dean Chris Edley and his wife, Maria Echaveste, attend the school, and she heard about its commitment to diversity and its Spanish language immersion program. Sotomayor is the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice and the third female justice.

The children only found out this morning that Sotomayor would be visiting, but they had been studying her career since the two classroom teachers had been informed of the visit. In the first class the justice visited, the children performed a play about Rosa Parks. Sotomayor then shook every student’s hand before answering questions.

In the second class, the entire discussion and Q&A was conducted in Spanish. According to Berkeley Unified School District spokesman Mark Coplan, the one question that was asked in both classrooms was how Sotomayor had reacted when President Barack Obama told her he was nominating her for the Supreme Court. She told how she held the phone in one hand, but had to use her other hand to hold her heart, “it was beating so fast”.

Sotomayor shows Rosa Parks students a drawing of a cat she made/Photo: Mark Coplan, BUSD

Even though Sotomayor was only scheduled to visit two classrooms, she couldn’t resist poking her head into several other classrooms when she saw all the eager young faces watching her through the windows.

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...