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Harvard University Honors Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor

First Posted: Oct 05, 2013 10:46 AM EDT
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Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor may have stellar credentials and the support from one of her biggest fans -- the President of the United States, but what makes this a trailblazer stand out from the rest?  She has made it a point to never forget her Puerto Rican roots and to pay it forward by inspiring and uplifting others in need.

Sotomayor, 59, is among six recipients of this year's W.E.B. DuBois Award, Harvard University's highest honor in the field of African and African-American studies.

The Hutchins Center for African and African-American Research, which presents the medals, credited Sotomayor with being the first Latina to serve on the high court and for speaking frequently of her upbringing, helping to influence and inspire children trying to succeed in the face of adversity, Politico reports.

"I am always reminded and continue to remember that I never stand alone because I do stand on the shoulders of so many people in this room and everyone who preceded me to open the door of opportunity," Sotomayor said during her acceptance.

"I try to remember that paying forward is an obligation that I must not only undertake but that gives meaning to all our lives."

The medals were also given to director Steven Spielberg, senior presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett, playwright Tony Kushner, Georgia civil rights activist and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), and NBA Commissioner David Stern.

The Bronx, N.Y. native, said she was "deeply humbled" by the award.

Among those presenting the awards were Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and former Boston Celtics great Bill Russell, Politico reports.

Sotomayor's parents came to New York from Puerto Rico during World War II. Her father worked in a factory and didn't speak English.

According to CNN, Sotomayor was born in the Bronx and grew up in a public housing project, not too far from the stadium of her favorite team -- the New York Yankees. Her father died when she was 9, leaving her mother to raise her and her younger brother on her own.

Her mother, whom Sotomayor describes as her biggest inspiration, worked six days a week to care for her and her younger brother and instilled in them the value of an education.

She later graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University and went on to attend Yale law school, where she was editor of the Yale Law Journal.

In her three-decade career, she has worked at nearly every level of the judicial system. She became President Obama's pick to replace retiring Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court in 2009.

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