Sonia Sotomayor: I wanted my gold stars. It wasn’t actually a nun, it was a teacher in fifth grade who would reward students who had performed well on their assignments with gold stars. And I wanted gold stars. And I realized that to get them I had to figure out how to study. And I did something that has helped me my entire life, and it’s something I still do, which is when I don’t know how to do something now I start reading about it. Back then I would ask people for help. And I have found that if you go to people and ask them for help that it feels like a compliment to them. Because everybody likes feeling good and likes doing something for other people, especially when what they’re going to do is easy for them.
And so I went to the smartest student in the class, and I looked at her, she’s still a friend today. This is Donna. And I said, “Donna, please tell me how you study. I don’t know how to study.” And she said to me, “You don’t know how to study?” She found the question odd but sat down and told me how she studied. How she would read the materials, she would underline the important parts of it. She would make sure at the end of every chapter that she understood what she had read before she moved on to the other chapter. How before a test she would read all of the underlined sections to remind her of what she had studied. And so I thought to myself, “Well that seems like something I can do.” And that’s what I started to do, and from a middling student I went to the top of my class, pretty quickly. Donna to this day says that was maybe the worst mistake in her life, because I started doing better than she did.