In 1981, Sandra Day O'Connor became the first woman ever appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan. On Friday, September 13, 2013, she was conferred an honorary Doctorate of Laws by the University of Montana.

Justice O'Connor spent the day prior to the ceremony meeting with and talking to high school and college students, and sharing her years of experience as an attorney, a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, and an avid fly-fisherwoman. In remarks from the stage, Montana Governor Steve Bullock personally volunteered to assist Justice O'Connor anytime she wanted to go fly fishing in Big Sky Country.

Photo by Todd Goodrich

During her remarks in the George and Jane Dennison Theater on the University of Montana campus, Justice O'Connor highlighted the importance of educating the next generation about our government through civics classes, that are more and more becoming elective, rather than mandatory in public schools.

"Less that one-tenth of eighth-graders can name the three branches of government, much less say what they do," O'Connor said. "Less than one-third of eighth-graders can identify the historical purposes of the Declaration of Independence, and it's right there in the name," she said to laughter from the audience.

Justice O'Connor was instrumental in helping to develop an online civics education program called I-Civics, which she said has become very popular with school children who play video games.

"Research shows that I-Civics really does increase performance on civics assessments," O'Connor said. "What's more, it shows that students are learning and having fun at the same time. In one study, over half of the students who were taught in class using an I-Civics game went home, and without anyone telling them to, played them again. Now, getting students to study by choice is what I call success."

O'Connor also emphasized the importance of community service for citizens of all ages, whether it was in schools, churches, or even just participating in the voting process.

Joining Justice O'Connor on the dais were Montana Governor Steve Bullock, Montana Attorney General Tim Fox, and Chairman of the Montana Board of Regents Clayton Christian, along with University of Montana President Royce Engstrom and the outgoing Dean of the University of Montana Law School, Irma Russell.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor