DENVER -- Growing up in the Bronx, Sonia Sotomayor didn't dream of becoming a Supreme Court justice.
"When I was your age, I didn't know there was a Supreme Court," Sotomayor told 100 Colorado middle- and high-school students Thursday morning.
"You can't dream unless you know what the possibilities are," she said.
Sotomayor, who came to Denver to dedicate the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Justice Center -- the state's new Supreme Court building -- met with the students early Thursday morning. After she took pictures and spoke with them, she helped cut the ribbon to official open the building's learning center.
Just few minutes in to her speech, Sotomayor left the stage and walked the floor where the students sat.
Her interest in the law began when, as a youngster, she watched the TV show "Perry Mason," she said. She started to think that practicing law would be a good career.
She overcame several challenges -- being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 7, her father's dying when she was 9 --in becoming the country's first Latina Supreme Court Justice in 2009.
"I didn't know my possibilities," Sotomayor said.
After her short speech, the justice took at least nine questions from the students. As they asked their questions, Sotomayor walked up to each student, then looked the student in the eye while she answered.
Emphasizing a theme of her speech, she repeatedly urged the students to try new experiences, even at the risk of failure.
"The hardest thing you can do is take chances when you can fail," Sotomayor said.
Boulder resident Evangeline Mathis, who attends Sacred Heart of Jesus School, asked Sotomayor to describe one of her early opportunities to take such a chance.
"Going away to college," the justice replied. Her cousins were attending local New York colleges when a friend urged her to apply to Ivy League schools -- and Sotomayor didn't even know what the Ivy League was, she said.
"If I had known how hard it is to get in, I probably wouldn't have tried," Sotomayor said.
Evangeline, who is 14, was thrilled to have asked Sotomayor the question. While Evangeline was inspired by the justice's life story, she also liked "how down to earth she was ... and how she always has a smile on her face."
Silver Creek High school student Amulya Srivastava, 16, spoke with the justice during a photo opportunity before the event began.
"She was congratulating me on being here," Srivastava said. She told him to concentrate on doing his best and not worrying about what others said, he said.
"She told me to just keep on going, harder and harder," Srivastava said.
"It was one of the coolest things that ever happened to me."
Statewide, 1,200 students applied to attend Thursday's event.
"I thought it would be a cool opportunity for me to understand how the Supreme Court works," Srivastava said Wednesday .
He is inspired by Sotomayor's accomplishment of being the first Latina to serve on the Supreme Court, he said. That's especially meaningful because the United States has a history of racism, particularly against Latino people, he said Wednesday.
"Now she's kind of my role model," said Srivastava, an Indian immigrant who moved to St. Louis in 2008 and to Longmont in 2009, and has had his own experiences with racism.
Adam Schane, who also attends Silver Creek, also attended the event. When the 16-year-old was in eighth grade at Altona Middle School, his class met President Barack Obama during their trip to Washington, D.C.
He wanted another opportunity to meet one of the country's leaders, he said Wednesday.
"She's a pretty groundbreaking lady at the Supreme Court," Schane said Wednesday. "I was so excited when I got the OK."
Thursday, he said the event was "beyond my expectations."
"It was amazing to hear from one of the justices," Schane said. Her advice to take chances is one of the biggest things he'll take from her, he said.
Detrick Molina Peterson, a 15-year-old Boulder resident who attends Watershed School there, applied to attend the event at the urging of his mother.
But after hearing Sotomayor speak, he said he was glad he'd attended.
He was quite impressed that she rose from poverty in the Bronx to join the Supreme Court.
"She's a really powerful person in the U.S. It's amazing to see she's come that far," Detrick said.
Thirteen-year-old Evan Williams, who attends Eldorado K-8 School in Superior, expressed similar sentiments.
"I didn't expect someone (from her background) to rise so high. It really amazed me," Evan said.
Although Evan was disappointed that he didn't get to ask Sotomayor a question, he appreciated the questions that other students asked.
Sotomayor's advice to stay true to yourself is something he'll remember, he said.
"That's what's going to stay with me," Evan said.
Each student in attendance -- one student from each state House and state Senate district -- received a personalized, autographed copy of Sotomayor's book.
Sotomayor wrote her autobiography, she said, hoping that young people will see that she is like them and that when they are discouraged, say to themselves, "If she could make it, so can I."
Victoria Camron can be reached at 303-684-5226 or email@example.com.