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Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor ’76 and Association of American Universities President Hunter Rawlings III GS ’70 will be presented with the University’s top alumni honors at Alumni Day on Feb. 22, the University announced Monday. Sotomayor will be given the Woodrow Wilson Award and Rawlings will be awarded the James Madison Medal.
The Wilson Award is given by the Wilson School each year in honor of former University President Woodrow Wilson, class of 1879, who famously advocated the slogan, “Princeton in the nation’s service.” Last year, the award was presented to former Indiana Governor and current Purdue University President Mitch Daniels ’71.
Sotomayor, a Bronx, N.Y. native, graduated from the University summa cum laude with a degree in history before attending Yale Law School. After passing the bar in 1980, she began her legal career as an assistant district attorney in New York City. In 1984, Sotomayor transitioned into private practice, working for Pavia & Harcourt, but was also active in various other organizations, including the New York City Campaign Finance Board and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund.
From 1992-98, Sotomayor served as the United States District Court Justice of the Southern District of New York, after nomination by President George H. W. Bush. She then served on U.S. Second District Court of Appeals until 2009, when she became the first Latina woman to serve as a Supreme Court Justice.
“She really exemplifies the Woodrow Wilson School Award, as a Princeton alumna who has devoted herself to public service. In fact, she personifies public service with her work first as a lawyer in New York and now in the Supreme Court,” Wilson School Dean Cecilia Rouse said.
Sotomayor, one of three Princeton alumni currently serving on the Supreme Court, returned to campus in May 2011 as part of the ‘She Roars’ conference celebrating women alumnae, and spoke on women’s leadership potential.
Joseph Schubert ’74, who was a friend of Sotomayor’s while at the University, said Sotomayor’s excellent work ethic set her apart from her peers and that her friends knew she would achieve great things.
“I would say that her determination and desire to succeed were two very outstanding characteristics that I observed with her. She was one of the most dedicated, hardworking students that I’ve ever encountered,” Schubert said. “I don’t think any of us expected that she would aspire to Supreme Court Justice, but it makes sense, given the fact that she just had that sheer drive and ability to leverage connections, and it worked out very well for her.”
Sotomayor broke racial barriers even as an undergraduate, according to Margarita Rosa ’74, who, as a junior, became friends with a freshman Sotomayor when she persuaded Sotomayor to join Accion Puertorriquena, a Puerto Rican cultural organization on campus.
Rosa recalled the pride she felt when Sotomayor received the Pyne Prize, the University’s highest undergraduate academic honor, upon graduation. “That was a very exciting and moving moment as her friend and as another Latina from that generation, because we were not necessarily, nor is anyone else for that matter, the recipient of that type of prize too often. It was really very significant not only for her. I think that she’s always understood that these awards were not always significant just for her as an individual, but also as a member of a larger community.”
The James Madison Medal is named after the fourth president of the United States, who graduated from the University in 1771. The award is presented each year by the Association of Princeton Graduate Alumni to any alumnus or alumna of the Graduate School whose career demonstrates a deep commitment to public service and graduate education.
Rawlings grew up in Norfolk, Va., and attended Haverford College. After earning a Ph.D. in classics from the University in 1970, Rawlings spent his next 18 years on the faculty at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He spent seven years as president of the University of Iowa before becoming the 10th president of Cornell University from 1995 to 2003. He resumed the position for a short time from 2005 to 2006 and continues to teach undergraduate classics courses there. Rawlings is a member of the Ivy Council of Presidents and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He became president of the AAU in 2011.
Rawlings spoke at the inauguration of University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 in September, criticizing education reforms that place too much emphasis on metrics.
Rawlings said the award was especially meaningful because he is a “real student” of James Madison.
“I’m a Virginian and have a great admiration for his career and particularly for his contributions to American government, particularly to the Constitution itself and the Bill of Rights, and to very important principles such as the separation of church of state,” Rawlings noted.