Shawn Bainbridge bases his life on helping people.
On Saturday afternoon, he took the first step toward accomplishing something he knew was his calling.
The 37-year-old State College resident received a master’s degree in education from Penn State — more than a decade after entering the workforce.
“It feels good,” Bainbridge said. “It’s exciting that I was capable of doing something again and putting the effort into it fully after taking a big leap.”
The husband and father of two worked for about 10 years in the auto insurance business before quitting to go back to school.
“It was a good job, a nice career, but there weren’t many people my age at the company anymore and it seemed like a good time to change careers,” he said. “I always knew I wanted to help others and that’s why I went into auto insurance — to help people who are in nasty situations. But the nature of the job changed and I didn’t see myself being as productive as I would have liked.”
With family support and counselor guidance, Bainbridge came to realize that being a teacher was the right fit for him.
He finished the two-year program, completed a year of student teaching at State College Area High School — his alma mater — and felt that the sacrifices he’d made had paid off.
“The hardest thing was walking away from that second salary when you have a wife, mortgage and two kids, but my wife was so supportive and allowed me to do that,” Bainbridge said. “I owe it to her and the kids.”
This summer, he accepted an English teaching job at Midd-West High School near Lewisburg.
His new goal is to be able to pay it forward.
“I hope to be able to help and find kids who were like me in school — always stuck in the middle,” Bainbridge said. “If I can find one or two kids and help them to find their skills and help them build the tools to do great things, then I think that’s the vision of success.”
Bainbridge was just one of the 725 University Park students who graduated Saturday during summer commencement at the graduate level.
In all, 3,142 students graduated this semester, Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said.
When Alicia Corle’s name was called to walk the stage, she tipped her cap so the crowd could see the Nittany Lion painted on it and got a hoot from the crowd.
Corle graduated with a degree in agricultural science with an emphasis on animal sciences.
Graduate Brian Davis, a business major, also had a Penn State theme to his customized cap: “We are.”
They were just a couple of the 1,751 undergraduates.
“I’m glad it’s done, but there is a lot I’ll miss,” Davis said. “I think Penn State did everything in its power to prepare us for the next step in our lives.”