Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Carmen Espinosa said the response she gets when she attends events has been overwhelming “beyond words.”

“People that do not know me personally, know my story, and tell me how proud they are of what I have achieved as a Puerto Rican woman,” Espinosa told a crowd of close to 150 people at the state Capitol Thursday gathered for her swearing-in ceremony. “The Hispanic community wants to celebrate its successes, just like any other community.”

Then Espinosa, the first Hispanic justice on the state Supreme Court, spoke of the success stories of other Hispanics.

There are the visible ones, she said, like legislators and people in media. “But there are many more that toil for their families in a private way, working hard and succeeding in giving their children a better life, just like my parents did, for their children,” she said.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who made Espinosa the state’s first Hispanic appellate court judge two years ago and named her to the high court this year, cited her story, noting that Espinosa came to Connecticut from Puerto Rico as a child and became the first in her family to graduate from college.

Espinosa’s mother sat in the front row for the ceremony. She and the justice’s late father came to Connecticut speaking no English and worked long hours — he as a laborer, she in a factory.

“Every day I think of the sacrifices that made possible all that I have achieved in my life,” Espinosa said.

Malloy joked that he’d “found” Espinosa when he saw her name on a list of potential judicial nominees and determined she was “a tremendous individual and a tremendous American story that was deserving of more attention than it had received.”

By that point, Espinosa had already made history as the state’s first Hispanic Superior Court judge, appointed in 1992. Before that, she’d served in the FBI — the 68th woman ever to become a special agent, Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers told the crowd — and worked as an assistant U.S. Attorney. She also taught French and Spanish in the Southington public schools.

“It cannot go without saying that she has been a trailblazer,” Malloy said.

Judge Jose A. Cabranes, a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and Espinosa’s role model, said the ceremony should be a celebration of both Espinosa’s ascension to the high court and the political process that leads to judicial selections.

The country expects that all selections for the bench exhibit professional merit, he said, but other factors should play a role, too.

“Merit in the public appointments of a pluralistic society does not consist only of one set of readily identifiable or readily measurable criteria,” he said. “Throughout our national history, presidents, governors and mayors have rightly considered many factors in making appointments to the courts as well as to leadership positions in other branches of government, including state or region of origin, political party affiliation, personal friendship, past public service, religious affiliation, and race or ethnic origin.”

In her remarks, Espinosa credited the education she received from the New Britain public schools and Central Connecticut State University, and said she hoped her example would inspire young people.

“I’ve said many times that education is the key to success. These are not just words. I am living proof of that,” she said.

“For the young people of our state who might wonder if they can ever become a judge or a chief executive office or a governor, my answer to them is, ‘Yes, you can,’” she said. “It will not be easy, but it is not supposed to be easy. When you set your mind to achieving your goal, you can do it, and of that, I have no doubt.”

Arielle Levin Becker covered health care for The Connecticut Mirror. She previously worked for The Hartford Courant, most recently as its health reporter, and has also covered small towns, courts and education in Connecticut and New Jersey. She was a finalist in 2009 for the prestigious Livingston Award for Young Journalists, a recipient of a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship and the third-place winner in 2013 for an in-depth piece on caregivers from the National Association of Health Journalists. She is a 2004 graduate of Yale University.

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