By Megan Deutschman ’08
Susan Wall Ylitalo never expected her love of anything French to take her into the legal profession.
The 1998 College of Saint Benedict graduate practices trust and estates and also does pro bono work with Day Pitney LLP, a 400-lawyer firm. However, she did not begin college thinking her life would go in the direction that it has.
Upon arriving at the College of Saint Benedict, Ylitalo tested into 300-level French classes. After high school, Ylitalo spent a year in France as a foreign exchange student; it was her time in France that developed her language skills enough to make her eligible for advanced classes.
At CSB, Ylitalo began working as a French teaching assistant and tutor.
“French was my passion, but I didn’t expect it to be my major. Because of the encouragement I received from the faculty in the department and my continuing interest in improving my language skills, it made sense to focus my energies there,” she said.
After choosing French and humanities as her majors, Ylitalo decided that she wanted to return to France to further study the language. The College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University study abroad program to Cannes, France, wasn’t a good fit for Ylitalo, because she wanted to be abroad for a full year. With the help of CSB/SJU French professor Camilla Krone, Ylitalo enrolled at the Université Marc Bloch (University of Strasbourg II).
Studying abroad and working in the French department weren’t the only ways Ylitalo was involved with the CSB/SJU community. She also took two spring break service trips, and worked with Student Advocates Against Sexual Violence, the Asian Students Association (ASA) and the French Club.
“Each of these activities reflected different sides of my personality and values,” Ylitalo says. “Working with an on-campus organization that was fighting sexual violence was important to me … as a member of ASA I was able to get to know may international students … the French Club was a way to relax and share culture.”
“These experiences were the highlight of my time at CSB/SJU and helped to reinforce to me the importance of service to others,” Ylitalo said.
It was four years of clubs, activities and travel that gave Ylitalo the experience and preparation she needed for life. After graduation, Ylitalo applied to the University of Leeds. She was accepted and went on to complete her master of arts in Francophone studies.
She then decided to pursue a law degree at Columbia University, and now has a job with the Day Pitney firm. Besides practicing trusts and estates, Ylitalo does pro bono work and credits CSB/SJU for “help[ing] to instill values that ensure I make pro bono work a priority.”
“My studies at CSB/SJU helped prepare me for law school and working as a lawyer because of their emphasis on clear and concise writing and sophisticated literary analysis and research. I was surprised to find how prepared I was to analyze judicial opinions based on the skills I had acquired in my French literature courses,” she said.