Baldwin inspires McKeesport Area students during lunch at alma mater
Cynthia Baldwin knows just how far it is from McKeesport, where she grew up in the 1960s, to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, where she served as a justice from 2006-2008.
During a presentation Thursday at McKeesport Area High School, Baldwin, 69, impressed upon students that anything is possible with work, determination and a little bit of fearlessness.
“We all have to come from somewhere,” she said. “But what really matters is where you're going.”
Librarian Barbara Holtz asked Baldwin to speak at her alma mater to a group of about 30 students as part of the high school's “Lunch and Learn” program, a time for accomplished speakers with McKeesport connections to share their stories.
“Our kids really like to hear stories and they need to hear what these people have to say,” Holtz said. “I wanted (Baldwin) to come talk because she is a McKeesport graduate and she's achieved so much.”
When she graduated in 1962, Baldwin said, her options were limited.
“I never thought about being a lawyer or a judge,” she said. “There were three choices for women around the time I graduated: you could be a nurse, a teacher or a social worker. I decided I was going to be an English teacher.”
She earned a bachelor's and master's degrees at Penn State University, then became a college professor, but she said she yearned for something more.
“I grew up at a time when it was very difficult for African-Americans — not that it's excellent now,” she said. “When I was in college, that's when all the sit-ins were taking place in the South. I was always interested in how it was important to change within the system and how anyone could make a difference.”
Baldwin said instead of becoming radicalized, she embraced the law.
“I became convinced that you can't change people's minds, but you can change their behavior,” she said. “If a person decides they don't like you because you're too tall, too short, too thin, too fat, too black or too white, they're not going to change their mind about that. But why I like the law is because it says nobody can discriminate against you because of it.”
Baldwin returned to school to earn her law degree and began rising through the court system, becoming the first black woman elected to the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas in 1989, where she served for 16 years. She was appointed to the state Supreme Court by Gov. Ed Rendell in 2006 and, after two years, she retired and later became Penn State's general counsel. She gained national notoriety in 2012 during the Jerry Sandusky scandal, which she did not mention.
Instead, she focused on inspiring students to dream big, work hard and never give up.
“I think it's so important, within this community especially, that we give the time to our young people, tell them what the world is like and tell them what they need to do to prepare for it,” she said. “If we don't do that, we're not doing our duty.”
As a world traveler who has taught judges in China, Guyana, Uganda, Zimbabwe and other exotic locales, Baldwin stressed the need for more American students to learn foreign languages.
“Students in other countries speak two or three languages,” she said. “This is a world society. You're going to find that needing to communicate across cultures will become a way of life. If we don't start now, we're only going to fall farther behind.”
Baldwin said it's important to realize that everyone has the ability to change the direction of their life at any time.
“Wherever you are in your life, you can achieve anything,” she said. “You don't retire from life. You just keep going.”
Tim Karan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1970, or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Public comment policy varies in Mon Valley school districts
- Clairton City School District seeks savings in food service management
- Duquesne Elementary School students join the ranks of junior constables
- Steel Valley to post teacher, administrator salaries online
- McKeesport incident among derailments that prompt Casey to push ‘crude-by-rail’ rule
- Munhall resident pleads guilty but mentally ill for killing his mother
- McKeesport Area students share views during Black History Month panel talk
- Man suspected of robbing Elizabeth gas station with machete arrested
- McKeesport police use stun gun in arrest of Penn Hills man on slew of charges
- Work to merge Twin Rivers, Steel Valley councils of governments drags on
- Duquesne City School District administrators cite student progress