By Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

Speech at dedication of Sandra Day O'Connor High School in Phoenix, Arizona

February 12, 2003

Speech at dedication of Sandra Day O'Connor High School in Phoenix, Arizona
Type: Speech
Location: Dedication of Sandra Day O'Connor High School in Phoenix, Arizona

DISCLAIMER: This text has been transcribed automatically and may contain substantial inaccuracies due to the limitations of automatic transcription technology. This transcript is intended only to make the content of this document more easily discoverable and searchable. If you would like to quote the exact text of this document in any piece of work or research, please view the original using the link above and gather your quote directly from the source. The Sandra Day O'Connor Institute does not warrant, represent, or guarantee in any way that the text below is accurate.


(Automatically generated)

Sandra Day O'Connor Associate Justice was born in El Paso, Texas, March 26 1930. She married John D. O'Connor III in 1952 and has three sons, Scott, Bryan, and Jay. She received her BA and LLB from Stanford University. She served as deputy county attorney of San Mateo County, California for 1952 -53 and as a civilian attorney for Quartermaster market center in Frankfurt, Germany, from 1954 through 57. From 1958 through 60. She practiced law in Maryvale, Arizona and served as Assistant Attorney General of Arizona from 1965 to 69. She was appointed to the Arizona State Senate in 1969 and was subsequently reelected to two two-year terms. In 1975, she was elected judge of the Maricopa County Superior Court and served until 1979 when she was appointed to the Arizona Court of Appeals. President Reagan nominated her as an Associate Justice at the Supreme Court, and she took her seat on September 25, 1981. It's my pleasure to introduce to you, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Sandra Day O'Connor [automatically transcribed, may contain inaccuracies]
All right. Thank you so much.

Thank you. This is a really special day for me.

Can you imagine driving up to a beautiful new facility like this and seeing your name engraved across the front? It's quite a thrill. And I can think of no more welcome honor than that which you have bestowed on me to have this beautiful new high school bear my name.

I grew up on a cattle ranch in southeastern Arizona. When I was born, my mother wanted to go to a hospital and her parents were living in El Paso. So she went to El Paso and that's where I was born. When it came time for me to go to school. There wasn't any school near the lake ZB ranch and so I went off to El Paso and lived with my grandmother and went to school there. I attended a public high school in El Paso, Texas. In those days women did not hold public office, and no self respecting high school would have been named for a woman.

In fact, the high school I attended was named for Stephen F. Austin, a great figure in Texas history. So today in Glendale, Arizona, we have a chance to think about tradition and change, about the changes that contemporary society inevitably forces on us. The decision to name this high school for a woman is evidence of the change and attitudes about women that has occurred in my lifetime. Now, granted, I'm pretty old. But it's all happened in my lifetime. And young people today need to think about tradition as well as change in deciding which of our traditional cultural values should be nurtured, and what new pathways should be explored.

In less than one generation conditions are women and the United States changed dramatically. When I was a student at Stanford University in 1949, there was a presidential campaign and one of the candidates for president was Agilent Stevenson and I admired his eloquence. He was a fine speaker. And he gave a commencement address at that time to the women graduates of Smith College. He said this, countless commencement speakers are rising these days on countless platforms all over the world, to tell thousands of young people how important they are as citizens in a free society, as educated, rational, privileged participants in a great historic crisis. Sound familiar? But for my part, he said, I want merely to tell you young ladies that I think there's much

can do about that crisis in the humble role of housewife, which statistically is what most of you are going to be whether you like the idea or not, and you'll like it, he said.

He then went on in that speech to describe how they is educated women had a unique opportunity to influence their husbands and sons, who in turn would influence world events. Now that speech would not be given today. No commencement speaker or any other speaker in 2003. In this country would tell young women they should be content with merely exerting an influence on public affairs indirectly through their husbands and sons. Today, young women, like young men are expected to have and do have a direct influence on public affairs. There are more women and public offices in state and national legislative and executive positions than ever before.

More women candidates for public office at all levels of government than ever before in our history. About three years ago, I had the privilege of administering the oath of office to the five top elected officials in the state of Arizona. They were all women. quite amazing. So, as as I reflect on how quickly things have changed for women in this country, I can cite my own experiences. I graduated from Stanford University Law School in 1952. At that time, there were very few women lawyers, the job opportunities for them or even fewer, and as some of you may have read, the only job offer I received in the private sector on my graduation from law school, was as a legal secretary. Now today, public opinion generally has come to accept women as bold participants in every sphere of civil life.

Students today the mail as well as mail will have not one but countless different roads open to follow on their journey through life. And as students today, you will need to know how to adapt to a world with increasing social problems with financial uncertainty with grave international instability, you're going to have to learn to build new institutions to meet these needs. Now,

as we address the problems of today, and there are plenty of them with the world economy, problems of health, care of job dislocations of drug use, of poverty, of terrorist acts, we're going to have to help make changes and how our families function, how jobs are designed and in our cultural and

institutional attitudes toward education, and minorities and on our relations with other nations. We're going to have to build some new supporting pillars, which will support our families, our jobs and our country in the future. We're going to have to improvise solutions at times. And remember that the solutions we reach don't have to be elegant so long as they work. And that's the task that this young generation has before it. How are you going to deal with these changes in your own lives? Can you learn to build those supporting pillars? education is an important part of that answer. School is a good place to get it but don't think that your education takes place only during your time here in high school, or even in college or graduate school.

Education is a process by which a person begins to learn out learn, you will be learning all your lives. I am still learning every day of my life. I don't know all the answers to the problems we get at the Supreme Court. I have to think about them and study them and learn new things every day, and so will you. And you ought to take some comfort in that. Because even though your problems may sometimes seem immense, you have time to learn how to deal with them. But education is only part of the answer. Your values are another critical part. JOHN Gardner, a great educator Express one of the points I want to make when he said, You have to build meaning into your life. You build it through your commitments, whether through your religion to an ethical

Order as you conceive it, to your life's work, to loved ones, to your fellow humans, each of us should become involved in the community in which we find ourselves. You students are here now in this high school community. And you can participate directly and fully here as volunteer workers, or as representatives in class or student activities, or just as students and citizens, working to persuade others to take needed action. And it is, at the end of the day, the individual who can and does make a difference. Even in this increasingly populous, complex world, complex world of ours. The individual can make things happen. It's the individual who can bring a tear to my eye and caused me to take pan in hand.

It's the individual who has acted or tried to act, who will not only force a decision, but have a hand in shaping that decision. So give freely of yourselves always, to your family, your community and your country, and the world will pay you back many fold.

Second, I think each of us must make it a habit to try to do our best. Whatever task you're assigned, however, meaning

less you think it might be, do it to the best of your ability. Presumably many of you plan and hope to reach the point where you have interesting and important work to do. And you are paid as much or better yet more than you're worth for doing. But if your career path is at all like mine, and for some of you, who knows, it might be

You won't be starting at the top of the ladder. After I graduated from law school, I started my own private practice down the road here a little way sharing a small office with another lawyer in a shopping center in Mary Vail, Arizona. Other people who had offices in that shopping center, repaired TV sets, plain clothes or loan money. It was not a high rent district. I got walk in business people came to see me about grocery bills, they couldn't collect landlord tenant problems and other everyday matters not usually considered by the United States Supreme Court. But I always did the best I could with what I had and what I did. And when I applied to the Arizona Attorney General's Office for work, they didn't have a place for me. I persistent however, and got a temporary job and quickly rose all the way to the bottom of the

podium cold in that office. And as was normal for a beginner, I got the least desirable assignments. But that was all right. Because I managed to take away from these rather humble professional beginnings, some valuable lessons. I learned, for example, by habit of always doing the best I could with every task, no matter how unimportant it might seem at the time. And those habits breed future success. Abraham Lincoln once said, I always prepared myself for the opportunity I knew would come my way, as his career attests, devotion to excellence in all things, even when it seems the world will little note nor along remember the small task and which you find yourself engaged, can have its rewards. Finally, it's important to remember that we live in a free society under

Role of law and freedom means many things to different people. But most importantly, it means we have the right and the responsibility to discipline ourselves. Part of that inner discipline should be a lifelong effort to leave this world a little better than you found it on your arrival. Goodness knows you find it with problems today. So try to help solve those problems. Use your talents and you have a lot I've heard you this morning. Use your talent and your education to help those who need it and in ways which will make your parents and your teachers and Yes, me too proud of your efforts. as allies Stephenson also said long ago, Your days are short here. This is the last of your springs and now in the serenity and quiet of this place.

Touch the depths of truth. Do the hammer have them? You will go away with old good friends. And don't forget when you leave why you came. Now go eagles. Thank you.