Wheelhouse Talks feature Judge Sara Smolenski

GVL / Courtesy - cooley.edu

GVL / Courtesy – cooley.edu

Alyssa Rettelle

Grand Rapids native and Chief Judge of the 63rd District Court of Michigan Sara Smolenski gave advice to students at the Wheelhouse Talks on Wednesday, Jan. 14 in the L. William Seidman Center.

Smolenski is highly regarded as a community leader for her work in and out of the courtroom. Aside from being the longstanding Chief Judge, she is also a strong advocate for education, prevention of violence against women and community engagement. She is recognized throughout Grand Rapids for her public service and sense of humor.

Although she does not consider herself a community leader, she said if the words she had to say could inspire the students in attendance, she was happy to speak.

“To the students here, I want to tell you we’re proud of you,” Smolenski said. “We aren’t your family, we don’t know you, but we’re proud of you. You’re our future and we want what’s best for you. I want students to recognize that you can do anything you want to do. The sky is the limit and you’re at the very beginning of your journey. When I think of a leader, I think of someone that believes in themselves. If you believe in yourself, you can do anything.”

She gave credit to family for helping her gain self-confidence. She was one of 10 siblings, with eight sisters and one brother. Her brother and her father were also in law, so she knew by the time she was in the fourth grade that being a judge is what she wanted to do. Her decision to be a judge also came because she wanted to be able to speak for those people who cannot speak for themselves.

Smolenski also gave students advice about failure and how failure should be viewed as a part of learning. She encouraged students to go for any goals they have, to focus on doing what they want to do and to believe in themselves.

“There are three D’s to life,” Smolenski said. “The first is desire. Whatever goals you have, you have to want to achieve it badly enough. The second is determination. You have to be committed to your goals. The third is drive. You have to have the energy to go for your goals because if you don’t have enough drive then you won’t achieve it.”

Playing basketball at the University of Michigan, where she obtained her bachelor’s degree in political science, also taught her that being a good team player makes you a good leader, Smolenski said.

Most students know that feeling stressed can impact life negatively, but Smolenski said students can (and should) deal with worry in an organized manner.

“Worrying is a part of life but try not to worry so much because everything will work out,” Smolenski said. “Life is a journey you’re on, and you need to find a balance. We put way too much pressure on ourselves, so we really need that balance.”

GVSU student and political science major Theodore Woodcock was also in attendance for Smolenski’s talk.

“She was entertaining, engaging and she gave good life lessons and valuable advice,” Woodcock said.