Chatham University

Commencement Address

Sheila Reicher Fine
Keynote address delivered at Chatham University
May 21, 2012

Good Morning!

Thank you Dr. Barazzone, the Board of Directors and faculty of Chatham University for this wonderful honor, and thank you graduates, family and friends for sharing this significant milestone in your lives with us.

I am very proud to be receiving this honor with my husband. It is great being married to Milt! I receive daily pearls of wisdom. It is like living with an in-house professor of economics, political science, art history, English literature, finance, law and business. When I learned that he read Freud for pleasure at age 11, I began to be very careful of what I said to him. We are a good team, but not because we are alike. It is our differences that keep life quite interesting and force us to appreciate one another’s perspective. He has been an enormous support in all of my endeavors and one of my best cheerleaders.

I have been fortunate to be a part of the Chatham landscape since the late 1950s when as a teen I spent time with friends who were students on campus. I later returned in the 1970s and joined the “Chatham Family” as a Gateway student. I loved learning in this stimulating and superb environment. I enjoyed the unique Chatham culture. More recently, I have had the pleasure of reconnecting once again through The Fine Foundation and also through a partnership with LEAD Pittsburgh. Life moves in many wonderful circles.

When Dr. Barazzone told us about this honor, she said that both of us would be asked to speak. I asked her to suggest a topic. She said why not speak about what is important to you. It sounded easy enough until I began to jot down my thoughts, and it wasn’t coming together. So I went back to basics. What is really important to me?

Here goes.

I LOVE CHOCOLATE! It’s important to me. I discovered that it tastes even better when shared, much like life. I enjoy savoring the taste with someone despite the knowledge that there will be less for me. How much do I really need?

It is important to me to be myself.

If I look calm up here know that under this gown is a very excited person trying to look appropriately reserved for the occasion. In earlier years, I might have done a cartwheel. I’ve been known to say just about anything and to be far too open in some people’s estimation. I am comfortable with people. I was born that way. It has worked for me. I suggest you get comfortable in your own skin. Absolutely use role models and mentors to challenge your abilities but remain authentic to who you are. Make your own foot prints. It’s much simpler!

It is important to me to be aware of those around me.

I am sure that my mother would be delighted to know that her little girl who was constantly bringing strangers off the street for her to feed would one day channel these tendencies to public service in a safer domain.

Trying to make a difference in the lives of others has enriched my own. It has helped to center and balance me. You have no idea what a huge impact you may have on another individual by simple gestures. A smile can validate someone who feels invisible. Caring for others, especially those less fortunate or struggling, helps to repair the world and to keep us connected to one another.

It is important to me to put myself in another’s shoes, especially if I am disappointed or upset with them.

When I find myself judging others, empathy and understanding can dissolve misconceptions and permit me to be more open and forgiving.

It is important to me to take risks.

Don’t fear failure. While it may feel uncomfortable for a time, it is far worse not to try. I have learned a great deal from the difficult experiences and missteps in my life: they have afforded me the opportunity to grow and to mature. The exposure strengthened my confidence and enabled me to succeed, even if sometimes by accident. Isn’t that how penicillin was discovered?

It is important to me to speak for those unable to speak for themselves, at least until they can again.

This in conjunction with taking risks and following my heart became the genesis of LEAD Pittsburgh.

One day while reading The Wall Street Journal, I came across an article about a man’s suicide. I was drawn to this story and felt tremendous empathy for this person and his family. I kept asking myself why this intelligent, successful entrepreneur wanted to end his life. I knew very little about mental health at that time. I felt motivated to do something, though I had no idea what that would be.

I followed my intuition and committed myself to find out what we can do as a community to prevent this from happening to others. With that commitment and an incredible group of individuals, which included experts in the field, LEAD Pittsburgh was formed.

LEAD’s current focus, as you heard on the video, is to enhance the mental and physical health of college students. SCORE, which stands for student curriculum on resilience education, was developed to teach incoming college freshman how to strengthen personal skills to deal with stress, adversity and the challenges that life holds. Resilience helps us to adapt and cope while offering protection from anxiety and depression. Chatham University was among the first schools to collaborate with LEAD on this project. I am thrilled to say that Chatham incorporated SCORE into their First Year Experience.

Finally, it is important to me to nurture the resources of love derived from relationships with my family and friends. It feels wonderful to have some of them here today.

As you launch from this important turning point in your life, evaluate what is important to YOU. I encourage you to keep your eyes and ears and heart open to those around you as you forge the trail of your future. I ask you to consider how YOU might impact others along the way. Choose whatever suits YOU but begin somewhere! As your journey unfolds, opportunities may be revealed to you when you least expect them. When they do, utilize your assets, take risks and be confident that your efforts will be worthy. Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world, indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” So graduates go for it and as a result, I believe the world will be a better place as will your personal adventure. Congratulations, best wishes and don’t forget the chocolate!