The Declaration of Independence is read aloud every year on Heritage Day in Orient, usually by local children or politicians.
But this year included a surprise.
On Sunday, Orient welcomed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was one of seven people invited to read a portion of the Declaration of Independence as part of an annual tradition that dates back more than 200 years.
The first Hispanic justice, and the third woman appointed to the Supreme Court, also gave a short speech on the importance of progress, calling on the event’s 700 attendees to “continue working at making this a more perfect union.”
“On July 4, 1776, with the Declaration of Independence, our forbearers began the road to a more perfect union. It is important to remember that when they spoke in 1776 about all men being created equal, they were only talking about certain men and no women,” Sotomayor said. “It took us 100 years to include people of color in our Constitution as equal. It took us 75 more years for the courts to pronounce what that equality meant. It took another 150 years for the women’s suffrage act to be passed.”
She added that “we weren’t born a perfect union,” and that what the forefathers imagined is that citizens of this country would “continue down that road.”
Sotomayor’s message resonated for Angela Meredith-Jones, whose daughter Ella also recited a part of the declaration Sunday.
“I think it was really special for Ella to hear Justice Sotomayor speak about the importance of equality for all genders and races,” Meredith-Jones said. “It’s something she’ll be able to look back upon and remember as an important moment.”
John Holzapfel, board president of the Oysterponds Historical Society, said he wrote a letter to Sotomayor in January, inviting her to read at Heritage Day. He said Sotomayor has made trips to Orient before to visit one of her former staffers.
Most spectators weren’t aware the justice was attending until they took a look at the programs handed out at the event, Holzapfel said.
“She was amazing. The crowd really responded to her,” Holzapfel said. “It was definitely the best Heritage Day we’ve had in years.”