Skip to main content

Spring 2024 commencement address by Ms. Susan Baker Shipley

Spring 2024 commencement address by Ms. Susan Baker Shipley

Spring 2024 commencement address by Ms. Susan Baker Shipley

by Public Relations | May 11, 2024

As I start today, I have a question for everyone in the audience, not just our graduates. Think back to when you were growing up—what did you want to be? How many of you wanted to be a doctor? A nurse? A veterinarian? I see a few hands.Ms. Susan Baker Shipley delivering the 2024 Spring Commencement address

Well, you see, we share something in common. Growing up, I believed I was going to be a doctor or a veterinarian. I had it all planned out. I did well in high school and went on to college and studied hard. Then I hit organic chemistry—and let’s just say, I’m a banker and not a doctor.

While the path I took from childhood dreams of becoming a doctor to banking executive had a number of wonderful twists and turns, I’m not here today to recruit the next generation of bankers. I am here to encourage you to find purpose in whatever path you choose. I encourage you to listen to and answer that call that drew you to Saint Vincent.

Because you see, you face a big question. A question that can have many different answers. It is a question that you may or may not have been asked before.

Good morning and congratulations to the Saint Vincent College Class of 2024. Good morning to your family and friends who supported you during your incredible journey. And good morning to President Paul, the Board of Trustees and to the faculty and staff of Saint Vincent College.

It is so good to be with you on this special day. This is a day of celebration. A day to celebrate your hard work and achievement. A day to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Saint Vincent enrolling women. And a day to ponder a very big question: What will be your purpose in life? 

Let me share a couple of stories with you.

Agnes received a calling at the age of 12, when she knew she wanted to be a missionary. At the age of 18, she left her native Macedonia and joined the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish community of nuns with missions in India. After a few months’ training in Dublin, she was sent to India, where in 1931, she took her initial vows as a nun. From 1931 to 1948, Mother Teresa taught at St. Mary’s High School in Calcutta.

The suffering and poverty she glimpsed outside the convent walls made such a deep impression on her that during a train ride from Calcutta to Darjeeling, she received her call within a call, which was to help the poor while living among them. She answered that second call, making it her lifelong purpose.

This would lead her to build schools and orphanages, care for lepers and the terminally ill. In her lifetime, Mother Teresa’s order expanded to 90 countries, helping millions of people and children. She described her work as “small things done with great love will change the world.” 

Closer to home, here in Pittsburgh, there was a young boy who was shy, overweight and had few friends. He was sometimes bullied in school. But he kept an open heart. And he answered his call when he became an adult to become an ordained minister. He later attended graduate school, where he studied childhood development, and worked in television production.

A second calling came to him when he realized television would be a fabulous instrument to nurture those who watch and listen to it. Fred Rogers answered his call, becoming our beloved Mr. Rogers. He followed his calling through life stating, “All I know to do is light the candle that has been given to me.”

Not all callings are as high-profile as what Mother Teresa and Fred Rogers experienced. Callings aren’t scheduled or planned, but rather they are revealed through our life experiences. What will be the purpose in your lives? What are you being called to do?  

When I was a senior in high school more than 35 years ago, the McKees Rocks Rotary Club invited two high school students to attend its weekly luncheon meeting. It was an opportunity to introduce the students to the community’s business leaders and for those leaders to inspire the students to a life of service to their community through business.  Every Thursday, my mother would pick up my classmate, Keith Schmidt, and me and take us to the McKees Rocks Rotary lunch meeting. This experience not only got us out of school for a few hours every week—and, believe me, we enjoyed that—this experience changed my life.

You see, at these luncheons, I met businessmen such as Bill Burgunder, Paul Baker, and Pete Cypher. They were wonderful men who were so passionate about their community. They worked tirelessly to address the needs of the McKees Rocks community, a community that needed them as much as they needed the community. 

These businessmen had a calling to serve others and they exemplified what it meant to live purpose-filled lives—service above self.

In my junior year of college, when organic chemistry torpedoed my dreams of becoming a doctor, Pete Cypher encouraged me to apply for a Rotary Scholarship. That scholarship took me to Pamplona, Spain, for 18 months. During that special year, I built relationships with Spanish Rotarians who ran a myriad of different business and who all lived service above self. I began to understand my calling—a business career that would enable me to live my Catholic faith to serve others. That’s how I found my purpose when I answered the call to become a banker.

You see, banking is about people. It’s about relationships. It’s about listening and understanding the dreams and aspirations of the people we serve and finding ways to help them accomplish what they want in their lives. 

It’s a profession in which our work improves people’s lives, helps businesses thrive and strengthens the communities in which we live. I am blessed to live my purpose every day, working for an organization that places a high value on doing good in the community to make lives better, making our corner of the world a better place. 

Was the path always straight? No, not always. We all face challenges in our lives, careers and professions. Everything has twists and turns we don’t anticipate. 

Most days, all of us are at a crossroads—some big, some small. Some change the course of our lives, some don’t. Some are unexpected, some are planned. Listening to the voice inside of you, I encourage you to embrace hope and press through any obstacles you face.

Keep an open mind as you continue to reflect on the question: What will be the purpose in your life? What are you called to do, and how will you answer that call?

Keep an open heart as you answer your call, keep pressing forward and allow yourself grace along the way.

I’d like to share with you a poem that is found on the walls of Mother Teresa’s home for children in Calcutta. My hope is that it inspires you to answer the call that enables you find purpose in your life. 


People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies. Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and truthful, people may deceive you. Be honest and truthful anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight. Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.


You see, in the final analysis, it’s between you and God; it was never between you and them anyway.

Congratulations, Saint Vincent Class of 2024, and may God bless you abundantly on your journey.