Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Louis B. Butler told students about his academic and career experiences Tuesday night.
Butler, a UW alumnus, was the guest speaker for the Students Equal Access to Law School and Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority's interactive discussion in the field of law.
Butler said his interest in law first became prevalent when he heard John F. Kennedy's inaugural speech.
"I was 8, and I had just heard President Kennedy, his inaugural speech, ‘Ask not what your county can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,'" Butler said. "Now I heard that speech, I was impressed by it and it made a big difference to me, and I thought ‘Gee, this really sounds like something to me.”
Appointed in 2004 by Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, Butler became the first African-American Supreme Court Justice in Wisconsin.
Butler said he is proud to carry such a title but regrets that it took until the 21st century to happen. He continued to encourage students, regardless of whether they chose to study law, to set high goals and never accept failure.
"If your goal is high, you have nowhere to go but up, but if you set them low, you have nowhere to go," Butler said. "When somebody tries to stop you, don’t let them get anywhere. I've always lived by the rule that whenever somebody slams the door shut in my face, I try to find a window to climb through"
UW seniors and SEALS co-chairs Priti Patel and Kate Finley said they asked Butler to present because he represents the kind of success UW students can look forward to in the professional world.
"Our mission is to provide resources to underrepresented minorities and to increase that presence in the law field," Patel said. "He is just a great inspiration to those that tend to historically have less opportunities to succeed in higher education."
Finley added with Butler's background and his own personal drive, he got to where he is today.
"Regardless of certain barriers in society and jobs, if you want to do something — (be) a lawyer, judge, president — you can do it,” Finley said. “You have to have the personal fortitude. It was powerful."
Butler continued to share more of his experiences, calling his first year of law school "sheer terror," but while the first year was a hurdle, he had no doubt UW prepared him well for the real world.
"While it was very intense inside academically, there was a lot you could do externally," Butler said. "By being here, it enabled me to continue to develop as a person."
Butler encouraged students to find a field of interest, be ambitious and take advantage of the resources the university has to offer, because it will ultimately become a major part of professional careers.
"Set your goals high, be willing to work hard to achieve those goals and don't let anything get in the way of those goals," Butler said. "Life is an adventure, and the true joy is not getting there — the true joy is the ride."