Chatham University

Commencement Address

Chatham University - Pittsburgh, May 3, 2008

Debra Todd
Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania


President Barazzone, Chairman Rust, Dr. Armesto, graduates, and honored guests, thank you all for inviting me here today. I am absolutely thrilled to be back home at Chatham, although, I must admit, a great deal has changed since my graduation in 1979.

My memories of Chatham are fond ones. From my Freshman year, living in Fickes Hall, to my Junior Interim in London; From my Freshman English class with our beloved Dr. Don Adam, my Freshman Poli–Sci class with my pre–law advisor, Dr. Doug Chaffey, and my years in the Chatham Choir with Professor Peggy Ross–Mehl, to my senior tutorial at the Chatham Theatre; From my work–study job in the Provost's office to my frenzied trips to my mail box to check for law school acceptance letters –some were acceptances – and some were rejections— this was where I grew up, and where I discovered my potential. It was here that I was given the opportunity to pursue my dreams. The friendships I made and the lessons I learned have remained with me and have molded me into the woman I am today.

When I was a student here, the college provided a van to transport us around town. Esther – Do you still have a van? I will never forget the words on the side of that van – "Chatham College –Where a woman chooses her destination." As I rode along to my internships at the Allegheny County Courthouse, I began to realize how prophetic those words really were.

The foundation of a quality education, along with the recognition that we women can do whatever we set our minds to, is a rich gift indeed.

There is a lot happening here today – speeches, awards, honorary degrees– But, we must not lose sight of the fact that this day is about YOU! Each and every one of you!

This Commencement is about YOUR accomplishments. It is about the struggles you have endured, the challenges you have overcome, and the victories you have achieved. I am here to congratulate YOU, the Class of 2008 on how far you have come.

And, let us not forget that Commencement is also about beginnings. Your beginnings–the start of a bright new future for each one of you.

How exciting! As you close this chapter, and revel in the glory of the completion of your college education, you have the unparalleled opportunity to turn the page to your shiny, new future.

What that future holds is up to you. Whether it means starting graduate school, or law school, or medical school; whether it means travel to far away places or joining the world of working women; whether it means devoting time to your family – or starting a family –the quality of your future is up to you. And, it is your determination, your self–confidence, and your positive attitude, that will guide you to success, however you choose to define it.

Speaking of Attitude – One of my favorite poems is by Charles Swindoll – and I would like to share it with you:

The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.

Attitude to me is more important
than the past,
than education,
than money,
than circumstances,
than failures,
than success,
than what other people think, or say, or do.

It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill.
It will make or break an organization, a school, a home.

The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day.

We cannot change our past.
We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way.
We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do
is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…

I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you....

Doesn't that say it all? What does a good attitude mean in practical terms?

It means being a gracious winner – because sometimes you will win.

It means NOT being a sore loser – because sometimes you will lose.

It means, in your professional life – treating your superiors with respect.

It also means treating your subordinates with respect.

It means when people support you – and they will – showing gratitude.

And, it means when people you thought would support you – disappoint you – and they will – letting go of bitterness.

If I can leave you with one piece of advice today, it is – If you hold any bitterness in your heart toward anyone – LET IT GO.

You leave here today with a valuable asset – a Chatham degree–Take pride in what you have learned, and walk fearlessly into what I am certain will be a brilliant future, no matter how you choose to spend it. A great jurist, Oliver Wendell Holmes, once said, " Have faith, and pursue the unknown end."... After all, isn't that what life is all about?

As you leave here today, have faith in yourself, and remember that WE have faith in YOU. I can't wait to see how your futures unfold.

Congratulations, and may God bless you all.