In 2010, Elena Kagan became the fourth woman ever to sit on the United States Supreme Court, having been nominated by President Barack Obama. She was also the first woman to serve as U.S. solicitor general. Previously, Kagan’s early career included clerking for Justice Thurgood Marshall of the U.S. Supreme Court. During this time, she also worked for Michael Dukakis' 1988 presidential campaign, but after Dukakis lost his bid, Kagan spent the next 12 years or so jumping from work at a private law firm, to teaching at the University of Chicago Law School, to working as counsel for President Bill Clinton, which ultimately led to her role as deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council.
Following the end of the Clinton era, Kagan returned to academia – quickly climbing the Harvard Law School ladder from professor in 2001 to dean in 2003. During her tenure of five years as the dean of Harvard Law, Kagan made big changes at the institution, including faculty expansion, curriculum changes, and the development of new campus facilities. At 50 years old, she became the youngest member of the current U.S. Supreme Court, and the only justice on the bench who had no previous judicial experience.
Kagan's path to the nation’s highest court can be traced back to the late 1970's when she enrolled in Princeton University. As an undergraduate, Kagan was the definition of a star student. Her grades were always top in the class and she served as editorial chair of The Daily Princetonian. In particular, she was drawn to American history and archival research. This led to Kagan writing a senior thesis under historian Sean Wilentz titled "To the Final Conflict: Socialism in New York City, 1900–1933." Her hard work did not go unnoticed by university leaders. In 1980, Kagan received Princeton's Daniel M. Sachs Class of 1960 Graduating Scholarship, one of the highest general awards the university confers, which also allowed her to continue her studies at the prestigious Oxford University. In 1981, Kagan graduated from Princeton with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, earning the distinction summa cum laude.
Over the years Kagan has made efforts to strengthen her ties to her alma mater, notably showing up in New Jersey for her 25th reunion. Then in 2014 she triumphantly returned to Princeton as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. During a public event, nearly 800 people attended to hear Kagan's insights about the workings of the court and her legal philosophy. Kagan also recalled her time as a student at Princeton, calling it the greatest place which she still feels very warmly for.
Following the success of this visit, Kagan returned four years later to take part in Princeton's "She Roars" conference, aimed at celebrating women. Joined by fellow Princetonian, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Kagan used the platform to decry the politicization of the court, while stressing the importance of rising above bipartisanship squabbling. "It's an incredibly important thing for the court to guard, this reputation of being fair, of being impartial, of being neutral," Kagan said, "and of not being simply an extension of the terribly polarized political process and environment that we live in."