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Former State High Court Judge Addresses Susquehanna University Graduates

May 10, 2009

SELINSGROVE, Pa. – More than 4,500 graduating students, parents and guests at Susquehanna University’s 151st Commencement ceremony were reminded today by former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Cynthia A. Baldwin that “life is a series of new beginnings if we are truly living and not just existing.” Concluding the school’s year-long sesquicentennial celebration, the service took place in the field house of the James W. Garrett Sports Complex, where 426 students were awarded bachelor and associate degrees.

Baldwin, past chair of the Pennsylvania State University board of trustees and currently a partner in the Pittsburgh law firm of Duane Morris LLP, spoke about sacrifices and contributions during challenging times. “Every person must decide in each situation whether a contribution or a sacrifice is necessary,” she said. “If we are not doing either, we are emulating life, not experiencing it.” Addressing anxiety about the future, she said, “If your life is going smoothly, if your ocean has no waves and your road has no bumps, watch out; you may be going nowhere.”

Susquehanna also conferred six honorary degrees today, one of them on Baldwin and another on Bishop Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), who earlier delivered the homily at a baccalaureate service in Weber Chapel Auditorium. Other recipients included Lore A. Degenstein, Sidney J. Apfelbaum, Jeffrey C. Apfelbaum and Michael M. Apfelbaum, who were recognized by University President L. Jay Lemons as “distinguished members of our community, patrons of the arts, champions of education, [and] generous and esteemed friends of the university.”

Lemons challenged graduates to set an example with their lives. “To be truly educated, you must give yourself to the process of learning and the pursuit of curiosity,” he said. “Seek answers to questions. Impart your knowledge on others. Your education isn’t ending, it is just beginning.”

Baldwin warned graduates against taking the easy way out, prompting them to invest in their own futures for greater return. “A full life demands total commitment, and commitment is as apt to bring pain as accomplishment,” she said. “No, it is not easy to invest, and the rewards are not instantaneous, but we will be part of the beginnings of a world that has hope for the future, with peaceful countries, clean air and water, and an educated and concerned people.”  

Acknowledging fear of the unknown, Baldwin urged graduates to overcome inertia. “We will make mistakes, but we can be forgiven,” she said. “Our true mistake, however, is to make no choices, to face no challenges, to not prepare for the future.”

Baldwin noted that the global economy and worldwide influences are this generation’s new reality. “Ours is a world characterized, as someone once said, by the globalization of corporations, the robotization of economics and the polarization of income. You are facing a world in need of conscience, compassion and control.”  

In a nod to recent headlines about corporate misdeeds, she encouraged graduates to resurrect what some consider old-fashioned values, among them ethics. “It means choosing principle over power and morals over money,” she said. “It means giving a full day’s work for a full day’s pay without complaint. It means doing your best even when no one is watching or giving you accolades. It means choosing to do the correct thing even when everyone else is doing the wrong thing and getting wealthy.”

Baldwin closed with a direct call to action. “I say to you, graduates, don’t ever give up on this world. You are its leaders. Make all of the contributions and sacrifices necessary to build a better future. ”

Baldwin received an honorary Doctorate of Laws for her judicial and public service records. She was the first African American female judge elected to the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas. She has served on numerous boards and commissions related to law and education, and taught at the Greater Allegheny campus of Penn State, Duquesne University School of Law and Widener University Law School. Having lectured as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Zimbabwe Law Faculty and worked with judiciaries in several other countries, Baldwin is now involved in efforts in Guinea and Uganda to fight government corruption and to educate people about their rights and responsibilities as citizens of democratic governments.

Hanson, who serves as president of the Lutheran World Federation concurrently with his ELCA position, received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree. He has been pastor of three congregations in Minnesota and served two terms as bishop of the Saint Paul Area Synod. He also has been president of the Minnesota Council of Churches, vice-chair of the ELCA Conference of Bishops and executive council member of the National Council of Churches USA. The recipient of several honorary degrees, Hanson speaks throughout the world about social, economic and political injustice.

Honorary degrees were conferred collectively upon Lore A. Degenstein, Sidney J. Apfelbaum, Jeffrey C. Apfelbaum and Michael M. Apfelbaum for their extraordinary support and service to Susquehanna University through their work with the Degenstein Foundation, the largest private foundation in the Greater Susquehanna Valley. Each received an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree.

Lore Degenstein was recognized for carrying out the legacy of her late husband, Charles B. Degenstein, whose namesake foundation has funded campus buildings and projects ranging from the Cunningham Center for Art and Music to the Degenstein Campus Center. She routinely lends support to the Susquehanna University gallery that bears her name.

Sidney Apfelbaum, a member of Susquehanna’s Board of Trustees since 1985, is founder of his own Sunbury-based law firm, serving several area businesses and charitable foundations. He is a member of the university’s Sigmund Weis School of Business Advisory Council and the Business and Industry Committee.  His granddaughter, grandson and daughter-in-law are Susquehanna alumni.

Jeffrey Apfelbaum joined his father’s law practice in 1977 after graduating from Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle. As part of his practice, he serves as co-counsel of the Degenstein Foundation and solicitor of the Shikellamy School District. He also was president of the Northumberland County Bar Association and a former member of the Sunbury Community Hospital board. Jeffrey has been involved with the Susquehanna Valley Regional Campaign and the Business and Industry Campaign. He was also instrumental in establishing the university’s SU4U scholarship program, which provides funding for local students facing difficult economic and family circumstances. His wife Susan and son Benjamin are Susquehanna graduates.

Michael Apfelbaum also works for his father’s law firm. He is a member of the Evangelical Community Hospital Board and of the board of counselors of Dickinson School of Law, his alma mater. Michael is the solicitor for the city of Sunbury and attorney for the Northumberland County Airport Authority. He helped to establish Susquehanna University’s Arlin M. Adams Center for Law and Society. Like his father, he has been active on the Sigmund Weis School of Business Advisory Council and the Business and Industry Committee. Both Michael and his brother Jeffrey have taught at Susquehanna as adjunct professors.

Founded in 1858, Susquehanna University is a national liberal arts college that prepares students for achievement, leadership and service in a diverse, interconnected world. Academic excellence, study away and service learning, student-faculty collaboration, and rich opportunities for creative and personal growth are hallmarks of a Susquehanna University education. Susquehanna students come from 30 states and 12 countries, and more than 90 percent of them find jobs or pursue graduate study within six months of graduation. The university is located in central Pennsylvania, in the town of Selinsgrove, along the banks of the scenic Susquehanna River and about three hours from major East Coast cultural, financial and recreational centers. For more information, visit www.susqu.edu.

Contact: Karen Jones

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