During University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire commencement ceremonies May 25, the university’s 1,420 newest graduates were asked to think a bit more long term than their immediate plans after college.
“I was asked to give you a ‘charge,’ or in my mind, a challenge,” said Susan Perry-Lindle, a 1971 UW-Eau Claire social work graduate who returned to campus to deliver the “Charge to the Class.” “So, here it is. Please think: What values or personal creed are you going to use to create your legacy?”
Perry-Lindle has her own impressive legacy. Following graduation she went on to a 26-year career in the U.S. Army. Her career highlights include an assignment as the first female Army officer in a combat brigade of an infantry division in Europe; a promotion to the rank of colonel when there were only 25 female colonels in the Military Intelligence Corps; and serving as the executive officer for the deputy chief of staff for intelligence at the Pentagon.
Perry-Lindle advised graduates to be mindful of life’s “take-your-breath-away moments” — including Saturday’s commencement ceremony. She shared examples that are part of her legacy, including jumping out of “perfectly good airplanes”; serving two terms at the Pentagon, both with “clearances higher than top secret”; serving in Turkey at the NATO command as the senior U.S. intelligence officer and female; and retiring as a full colonel in 1997.
Such moments continue to occur as new life chapters begin. Perry-Lindle shared personal examples, including marrying the love of her life at 50; inheriting a family of two sons and four grandchildren; receiving UW-Eau Claire’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2004; and remaining an active member of the Delta Zeta sorority for 51 years, including “coming home” to UW-Eau Claire each of the past 15 years in her role as an advisor to Epsilon Omega, the university’s Delta Zeta sorority chapter.
To help graduates consider the values that will guide them in creating their legacies, Perry-Lindle shared the tenets of Delta Zeta’s creed.
“We have such a beautiful creed, which I have tried to live by and have adopted as my own,” Perry-Lindle said, noting that the creed focuses on “what we will give to the world, to those whom we touch in slight measure, to those closer ones, and to ourselves.”
Perry-Lindle offered advice related to each of the creed’s tenets:
- “Your character will develop the most during difficult times, and you will have times, many of them, that allow you to grow. “
- “Please never get tired of doing little things for others. Sometimes those little things occupy the biggest part of their hearts.”
- In reference to family, “Please tell them you love them today, because tomorrow is NOT promised.”
- “Growth happens when we take risks, ask questions, help others, learn from our mistakes, embrace change, get out of your comfort zone, feel affirmed and supported and are challenged to grow. We can fail only if we don’t try.”
- “Ways to self-nurture include letting go of grudges, laughing when you can, apologizing when you should, letting go of things you cannot change, loving deeply, forgiving quickly and having no regrets.”
Following a personal creed can help a person adjust and continue to find joy at times when life does not match one’s initial expectations, Perry-Lindle said, leaving graduates with a final wish for their futures: “May you be proud of the work you do, the person you are and the difference you make.”