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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor leaves the stage, charges into the audience at U. speech

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Posted at 4:47 PM, Jan 28, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-28 23:39:41-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- It was not the dry speech expected from a visiting dignitary.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor dispensed with a canned speech on Wednesday, wandering the floor of the University of Utah's Huntsman Center before charging into the audience to sit with groups of middle and high school students.

"I hate podiums," she told the crowd, referring to herself as a "jumping bean" and leaving Utah Supreme Court Justice Christine Durham alone on the platform.

In remarks based on her book, "My Beloved World," Sotomayor addressed the youth in the audience. She spoke about her upbringing in the Bronx as the daughter of immigrants, urging those "first generation" students to remember their original language and culture, while at the same time embracing their new world.

Calling a young man with a question down from the audience, Sotomayor confessed to him that even now she feels like an outsider.

"I don't actually feel like I belong in any of the worlds I inhabit, completely," she said.

Sotomayor, who oversees the federal courts in Utah and the 10th U.S. Circuit Courts, never spoke about any cases she has dealt with or what is pending before the nation's top court. She acknowledged that her vote often doesn't make people happy. But she said she gets along with her colleagues.

"Every once in a while, one of my colleagues in their dissents gets a little too rambunctious," Sotomayor said. "People have asked me how I get past that. I tell them most of the time, it's because he's lost. So it's easy!"

Sotomayor did not name the "rambunctious" justice.

To the delight of the audience, Sotomayor shouted to a group of kids: "I'm comin' up there!" and headed up into the rafters. Her security team was left to trail her as she moved up the bleachers to pose for pictures and talk to the students.

"Hello, you guys! I'm gonna sit right here," she said, plopping down in the middle of a group. "Do we have a camera here?"

Seeing a news photographer, Sotomayor told him to take a picture and then moved on to the next group. Some begged for a selfie, prompting the justice to declare: "No selfies, sweetie! They make me look ugly."

As the justice worked the crowd, Durham reminded her of other obligations.

"Justice?" Durham said. "We're going to have to rescue you from your admirers because we need to get to your next event."

"I'm not going to my next event!" Sotomayor replied, moving into another group of school kids. "They'll have to wait!"

The University of Utah's president and school police officers were left on the floor, stunned at what was happening. Sotomayor told the rest of the audience to go ahead and leave while she met with the students.

"I'm really impressed by her... independence," said University of Utah professor Mark Matheson.

After making her way through the crowds of wide-eyed students, Justice Sotomayor headed out a back door with her security team. She declined to talk to reporters.

"I have never seen a sitting justice do something like that!" Justice Christine Durham told FOX 13 in an interview afterward. "She is an incredibly engaging and outgoing personality and she cares so deeply about the students."

For some of the teens who met with Sotomayor, it was inspiring.

"The words that she said were really touching," said Jovanna Romero.