Commencement 2017

Meet the Guardians of the Gonfalons

At commencement, outstanding students are chosen to carry their school’s or college’s gonfalon — a special banner that bears the school’s name and symbol. These “gonfalonieres” are accompanied by alumni volunteers, known as “Guardians of the Gonfalon,” who welcome them into the Husky alumni family and watch over the banner. The UW Alumni Association is proud to facilitate this small service for these deserving students. Columns Magazine’s Julie Garner shares stories from two alumni who served as Guardians of the Gonfalon at the 2017 commencement.

The meaning of graduation, 50 years later

Guardian of the Gonfalon Charyl Sedlik

Guardian of the Gonfalon Charyl Sedlik, ’67, at commencement

Charyl Kay (Tyndell) Sedlik, ’67 shed a few tears when she was invited to serve as a Guardian of the Gonfalon and walk with the graduating seniors at commencement in Husky Stadium last weekend.

Fifty years ago, Sedlik didn’t have the chance to walk during her own graduation ceremony. Right after earning her degree from the School of Nursing, she got married and immediately left Seattle for a job at Mount Zion Hospital in San Francisco. For all of these years, she lamented not being able to don the cap and gown. “This,” she says “is a really, really big deal for me.”

After graduating in 1967, Sedlik spent seven years on the East Coast working as a nurse at Harvard’s Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston and at Yale New Haven Hospital in Connecticut, before returning to Seattle in 1974 to work for Virginia Mason Medical Center. She spent the next 33 years as a pharmaceutical representative for The Upjohn Company and Merck and Co., Inc.

From the moment she returned to Seattle, Sedlik renewed her ties to the UW and the School of Nursing in a big way. She has spent more than 30 years on the School of Nursing’s Advisory Committee and served for three years on the UW Alumni Association Board of Trustees. An avid traveler, Sedlik and her husband have taken three trips with UW Alumni Tours, the alumni association’s travel program.

Graduation week was a whirlwind for Sedlik. In addition to serving as a Guardian, she attended the 50-year reunion celebration of her School of Nursing class, an event she helped organize. (Sedlik was also part of the organizing committee for the Class of 1967 50-Year Reunion, held last April.) She also pinned the new School of Nursing graduates at their own ceremony on  June 9. She attended graduation with Michelle Yip, who was receiving a Ph.D. in nursing science. Yip, a three-time Husky graduate, is the first in her family to attain a doctorate.

Nurses traditionally wear the pin of their school when working. Sedlik still has hers and — like her fond memories of her University — she cherishes it.

A good walk delayed

Guardian of the Gonfalon

Guardian of the Gonfalon Mike Miller, ’63, before the 2017 commencement

Mike Miller, ’63, has done a lot of things in his life. From his hometown of Kennewick, where he now lives, Miller started several lucrative businesses. He also worked as a highly successful salesman of medical supplies. If that weren’t enough, he has climbed Mount Rainier three times. He even found time to serve as president of the Washington State Chili Society — and he took ninth in a worldwide chili cookoff.

But there’s one thing Miller wasn’t able to do – walk with his graduating class during commencement in 1963. That changed last weekend when he walked as a Guardian of the Gonfalon with the College of Arts and Sciences at Husky Stadium.

“I think being a Guardian is a good opportunity to mingle with a whole bunch of Huskies,” he says. “I had seasons tickets to Husky football for 40 years. I’ve donated money, I get together with fellow Huskies in the Tri-Cities whenever I can — but I never walked [at graduation]. To tell you the truth, I had tears in my eyes when I was told of this honor.”

Miller wasn’t able to walk because on April Fool’s Day 1963, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He spent six months in active service and then another 5 1/2 years in the reserves.

“The draft was bearing down on me and rather than be drafted, I enlisted,” he recalls. “I thought military service was worth doing.” He worked in the Army’s civil affairs unit on a mission to put a battlefield city back on its feet and get basic services working for the population. A crack marksman, Miller also served on an army rifle team and was one of four Washington natives to win a worldwide championship.

Miller recalls his time at the UW with great affection. He worked his way through school and studied hard while competing for the Husky gymnastics team. He also served on the ROTC rifle team.

Walking with the latest crop of new UW graduates is a thrill Miller won’t forget. He’ll enjoy telling his children and grandchildren about the day he finally “graduated” from the UW.