Texas was the first state Sonia Sotomayor, the associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, visited after her book tour was launched in 2013. While in Austin, she discovered that busloads of San Antonians had come to see her.

“I was so deeply touched that people did that, that I made a promise: I told them that the next time I came to Texas, San Antonio would be my first stop,” she said.

And so it was, with the justice wandering among rows of audience members, shaking hands and offering warm smiles throughout a talk Thursday morning at the University of Texas at San Antonio. It drew more than 1,000 people to a small auditorium and overflow rooms.

Responding to a series of student-generated questions, Sotomayor, 63, wove together a story of perseverance and discovery.

She talked about being born into a Puerto Rican family in the Bronx in New York City, about dealing with a diabetes diagnosis at the tender age of 7 and about an alcoholic father who died before she was 10.

“To become a Supreme Court judge, the odds are worse than being struck by lightning,” Sotomayor told the students before her.

She urged them to reach for higher and loftier goals — to measure their success by the impact of their positive contributions and the stretch of their empathy.

As the first Hispanic justice to sit on the nation’s highest court, her background and accomplishments inspire the campus, UTSA President Taylor Eighmy said.

“She’s a role model for all of us, a daughter of immigrants who, through extraordinary determination and belief in herself, has risen to the top of her field,” he said.

Last week, national headlines reported paramedics were called to Sotomayor’s house to address an issue of low blood sugar.

“I didn’t have a scare, everybody else did,” she joked. “Everybody else sees it and they panic”

Turning more reflective, Sotomayor added, “Of all the different conditions God could’ve given me — some are harder.”

She credited her professional achievements to her life experiences — and her mother, who had imparted the importance of education and of forgiveness. In one story, Sotomayor recounted her mother signing up to join the U.S. Army to make a better life for herself. She was accepted, but there was a catch: she was only 17.

“So my aunt did something that in retrospect was not proper. But I think we’re past the statute of limitations,” Sotomayor explained to a laughing crowd. “She had an affidavit made up by a local dignitary, and my mother magically turned 18.”

From that family story, Sotomayor developed an understanding of wrongdoing, and the reasons behind it, that would later present itself in case after case on the high court.

“Hence I’m to understand that sometimes people do the wrong thing, but maybe for the right reason,” she said. “And if you’re caught, you have to be punished, but we have to understand that committing a crime is not always that you’re a bad person. So that’s a lesson I’ve taken my entire life.”

Sprinkled into accounts of her life was evidence of her Latino background, which many in the crowd shared. At one point, “Soy Latina” was all she had to say to prompt whoops and cheers. Later, when she was expressing thanks, she allowed a superstitious nature to show through.

“I’m gonna knock on wood, whatever wood there is,” she said, rapping her head instead. “You know, the Spanish in me.”

Everyone laughed. It was these bits and pieces of familiarity incorporated into powerful messages from a revered figure, that made Jaslyn Garza, 22, choke up.

“I loved how she shook as many hands as she could. It showed her character and her background because we Latinos are always like” — she gripped her friend in a tight embrace — “‘Hi, how are you?’ It helped me connect with her.”

Sotomayor said she goes to bed asking herself two questions that she must be able to answer: “What did I learn new today?” And, “Did I do something nice for somebody else?”

Victoria Rojo, who is 37 and working toward her bachelor’s in bilingual education, teared up.

“If you just hear her, and then touch her soft hands — it’s amazing. There’s a humbleness and a willingness to help others,” she said. “She was so inspiring to the Latino community. It was like, sí se puede.”