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Supreme Court Firsts: Justice O’Connor’s Final Shipboard Lecture

Last Updated on March 31, 2019

(Note: This article originally appeared on the blog for Enrichment Voyages, a program formerly offered by Semester at Sea.)

“It’s challenging to be a first,” said Sandra Day O’Connor during her final lecture on the December 2012 Enrichment Voyage. The retired Supreme Court Justice spoke about other milestone firsts as she prepared to depart on one of tomorrow’s Machu Picchu field programs.

The first woman appointed to the Supreme Court (or FWOTSC, as Justice O’Connor told us she has been called) spoke about everyone from the very first Chief Justice (John Jay) to the first black and Jewish appointees (Thurgood Marshall and Louis Brandeis, respectively). After her lecture, she thanked everyone for her wonderful experience on the voyage, which she first heard about through her son Brian, a Semester at Sea alumnus. Brian had told his mother that his voyage changed his life, so when Justice O’Connor had the opportunity to experience the ship for herself, she readily accepted.

During her second lecture on the ship, held a few hours after the MV Explorer crossed the equator, the FWOTSC encouraged voyagers to become active in their civic duties and spoke about iCivics, a website she founded with the express purpose of providing free education and learning materials on civics. When asked how people can make a difference in their everyday lives, O’Connor replied simply, “Effect change.” She went on to say that an individual’s best chance to be effective is to acquire knowledge — in any area — and to use it for the betterment of all. “The opportunities for the young are endless,” she said. The Stanford Law School graduate also stressed the importance of writing well, stating that she felt there were very few good writers among young people. “There’s definite room for improvement” in that area, she stated.

When asked what she had enjoyed most about her time with Enrichment Voyages, Justice O’Connor stated that she felt it was a privilege to have so many interesting people on board, and that she has enjoyed conversing with a good many of them. She also cited the ability to see such varied places of interest as an incentive for participating. Several days into the voyage, while speaking about her son’s love of Semester at Sea, Justice O’Connor declared that she was very glad to have had the opportunity to see the ship and program with her own eyes.

We are thankful and honored to have had Justice O’Connor aboard the December 2012 voyage.

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