California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye returned to C.K. McClatchy High School — her alma mater — on February 21 to address students enrolled in the Law and Public Policy Academy.
“It’s wonderful to be here,” Cantil-Sakauye told students. “I haven’t walked up the front steps here since 1977, when I walked down them to go out.”
Her appearance at the school is part of her month-long push to raise awareness about civics and the need to educate students about their responsibilities as citizens.Earlier this month, she visited Balboa High School in San Francisco and met CKM’s Law Academy students when they visited the Supreme Court.
In the crowd for the event at CKM was retired Third District Court of Appeals Presiding Justice Arthur Scotland, who also graduated from McClatchy (class of 1964) and Cantil-Sakauye’s husband, Mark Sakauye (CKM class of 1978).
“I was a senior and he was junior when we met,” Cantil-Sakauye said of her husband. “Of course, we weren’t dating then. In those days, that would have been uncool.”
The Chief Justice shared her inspiring life story with the students, who paid riveted attention to her words.
Cantil-Sakauye’s parents were former farm workers. Her mother “barely finished high school” and her father received only a middle school education. As a result “no one ever talked to me about college,” she said.
Still, Cantil-Sakauye followed in her older sister’s steps and moved on from CKM to Sacramento City College (then Sacramento Junior College), where she joined the speech and debate team, her first exposure to the art of argument. She later graduated from UC Davis.
Throughout college, she waitressed at restaurants to pay her way. That experience provided her with the ability to read body language, she said, which paid off later when selecting juries.
“Whatever I did, I gave it my all,” she said. “That didn’t mean I didn’t make mistakes. I made a lot of them. But if you work hard and do what you can do, you’ll be prepared for opportunities.”
Her advice to students striving for success in college and careers was simple: “Read as much as you can and write as much as you can. Who you are starts now.”
She said she enjoys talking to students as a form of community service. “I want to give back because so many good teachers made a way for me.”