Ketanji Brown Jackson’s 1-word advice for young people: ‘Persevere’

The newest member of the U.S. Supreme Court a one-word piece of advice for young people hoping to make an impact with their careers: Persevere.

On Thursday, the Senate confirmed Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court by a vote of 53 to 47, making her the first Black woman ever nominated and appointed to the nation’s highest court. During her confirmation hearings last month, Jackson detailed a story from 1988, during her first semester as an undergraduate student at Harvard University. As a young Black woman who came from a public high school, she said, she initially felt out of place at the Ivy League institution.

But one night, as she was walking through Harvard Yard, a passing stranger leaned over and offered her a word of wisdom. “I was really questioning, ‘Do I belong here? Can I make it in this environment?'” Jackson, 51, said. “I was walking through the Yard in the evening, and a Black woman I did not know was passing me on the sidewalk … She leaned over as we crossed and said, ‘Persevere.'”

The message feels especially poignant now, given the historic nature of Jackson’s appointment.

“I stand on the shoulders of so many who have come before me, including Judge Constance Baker Motley, who was the first African-American woman to be appointed to the federal bench,” Jackson said during her hearings. “And like Judge Motley, I have dedicated my career to ensuring that the words engraved on the front of the Supreme Court building, ‘Equal justice under law,’ are a reality, and not just an ideal.”

Jackson ultimately completed her undergraduate and law degrees at Harvard before launching a career in criminal justice reform, including time spent as an assistant federal public defender in Washington D.C. In 2016, President Barack Obama interviewed Jackson as a potential Supreme Court nominee after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death that year.

During her hearings last month, Jackson said she often accepts opportunities to speak with young Americans, hoping her one-word advice will resonate with them — just as she was inspired by it 34 years ago.

“I hope to inspire people to try to follow this path because I love this country, because I love the law, because I think it is important that we all invest in our future,” she said. “The young people are the future. And so, I want them to know that they can do and be anything.”

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