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Everyday Huskies

Charyl Kay Sedlik shows up

A famous quote says, “80 percent of success is showing up.” Careers begin by showing up day after day. You won’t find love until you walk through the door on that first date. Movements start when a small group of committed citizens gathers together to make a difference.

Charyl Kay Sedlik has shown up. A lot. The 1967 graduate of the School of Nursing and UW Alumni Association life member has a long record of service to the UW and the community. She’s been on the School of Nursing Advisory Board for 30 years, the Dean’s review committee and the School’s Centennial committee. She’s also on the Institutional Review Board for Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, where she reviews study protocols to uphold ethical standards for research.

Guardian of the Gonfalon Charyl Sedlik

Charyl Kay Sedlik, ’67, walked in the 2017 commencement as a Guardian of the Gonfalon

She serves as a docent at the Seattle Art Museum every Thursday and has sat on the boards for Artist Trust and Pratt Fine Arts Center. She’s been active in a local politics, and she was part of the Perugia-Seattle Sister City Association.

She and her husband Earl raised their kids in Seattle’s Mount Baker neighborhood, bringing their characteristic energy and sense of purpose to the place they called home. In the ’70s, they began by giving out balloons in clown costumes at the Annual Day-in-the-Park.  Their work in the neighborhood went on to include street improvements, housing rehabilitation and more — including the creation of the Mount Baker Community Club Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship Program, which has grown to award over $90,000 to college-bound underrepresented high school seniors every year.

She also watches the grandkids every Wednesday, plays mahjong every Tuesday, knits on some Fridays and plays cards with friends regularly too.

Tired yet? Ask Charyl Kay, and she’ll tell you it’s what keeps her young.

“They tell you that your health depends not just on eating well and eating right and exercise but on socialization… and a vodka once in a while,” she added with a wink.

Personal is political

“We show up” is one of the mottoes of Grandmothers Against Gun Violence, an organization she helped start in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. The organization began when Charyl Kay’s knitting group, which first formed about 10 years ago, decided enough was enough. A few of the members had experience working on public policy and in government, so they knew what it takes to make change happen.

“It started with about eight people around the table at our first meeting,” Charyl Kay said. “We are now in 30 states, we helped the Alliance for Gun Responsibility by collecting signatures for initiatives. We get out the vote, we send out postcards, and we raise funds. You really can make something happen if you show up.”

This wasn’t her first experience as a trailblazer. In 1974, Charyl Kay became the first female pharmaceutical sales representative on the West Coast at The Upjohn Company. When the sales representatives gathered, she was one woman in a group of 50. She wasn’t afraid to speak up when she got extra work that her colleagues were handing off to their wives at home.

She got some heat at the time for raising her voice, but she quickly learned the difference she was making.

“In three years they started hiring more women. The bunch of us had to prove we could do the work,” Charyl Kay said. “After 10 years, a vice president came out to Portland for a meeting. I was sitting next to him at an awards dinner. He leaned over next to me and said, ‘Women now constitute 30 percent of the sales force and you’re now doing 50 percent of the business.’ And there you have it. They started hiring a lot of women.”

Full circle

In 2017, the UWAA had the chance to honor Charyl Kay when they invited her to serve as a Guardian of the Gonfalon. Guardians are alumni chosen to walk at the commencement ceremony alongside outstanding students as they carry their school’s “gonfalon,” the special banner that bears the school’s name and symbol.
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This was especially poignant for Charyl Kay, because she missed her own graduation to move to San Francisco, where she started her first job out of school.

For Charyl Kay, all this work for the community is an extension of her education that began at the UW: “It’s so interesting to continue to learning. That’s why I’m a docent — to learn about art. That’s why I’m on Fred Hutch’s Institution Review Board — to keep up with science. It’s all just wonderful… You can’t just study. You gotta work on helping everybody.”