Carl Linder, 47, joins record-setting commencement class graduating this fall at Kent State Stark
Military veteran, firefighter and EMT, Carl Linder faced learning difficulties head-on.
The lower floor of Main Hall was familiar to Carl Linder before he ever enrolled at Kent State University at Stark. As a child, he played there quietly while his mother took evening classes.
It was the 1970s and while the single mom of two never completed her degree, Linder is happy to accomplish a dream that was once hers. On Friday, the 47-year-old will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology as part of Kent State Stark’s record-setting fall commencement ceremony. Linder is one of nearly 200 students being awarded bachelor’s degrees and 29 receiving associate degrees.
“To me, it’s like a baton. You have to run your race and you are handing off goodness,” he said. “You are handing off the time and effort people put into you, and it would be selfish to stop that.”
Linder considered quitting. But at Kent State Stark he was inspired to fight for what matters.
“My teachers, tutors, mentors, the list is endless,” Linder said. “They all helped me to continue moving forward to this day.”
Linder ran for mayor of Louisville this year, is a firefighter and a military veteran. He acknowledges he’s determined to succeed, blessed with the spirit of an overcomer. Diagnosed with severe learning disabilities, Linder has persevered to graduation day in spite of his ADHD and dyslexia.
“I had good instructors and tutors,” he said. “They helped me find new ways to learn, and once I was able to process information better, achieving an education became a reality.”
Linder minored in philosophy, a tough subject for most, he acknowledged. Thomas Norton-Smith, Ph.D., professor of philosophy and interim assistant dean for academic affairs, supported his choice of study.
“A veteran, Mr. Linder brought the best of his military attitudes to his studies in philosophy: dedication, determination, diligence and discipline,” Norton-Smith said. “He was always there, and always square. Mr. Linder’s classroom preparations were extensive, and his thoughtful contributions to discussions were offered honestly and without reservation.”
‘WAKING UP IN FREEDOM’
Growing up, Linder was told to be happy with the status quo.
A 1989 Louisville High School graduate, he worked on area dairy farms until age 19. He then became certified as a fireman and an emergency medical technician, with help from the Ohio Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation.
Years later, he joined the U.S. Army National Guard and served two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. His platoon sergeant inspired him to pursue a college education, and at age 42, Linder enrolled full time at Kent State Stark.
“She would always tell us we should get everything we could for everything we did, and that means getting a degree,” he said. “Going to war gave me peace and a whole new way of looking at what we have here in this country. We get to spend every day waking up in freedom.”
After graduation, Linder plans to continue his current volunteer work with the Stark County Honor Court, a specialized court for veterans and active duty service members who are facing charges in Common Pleas.
“This constant idea of serving has kept me out of trouble even when I did start to waiver down the wrong path,” said Linder. “Even with the frustrations and difficulties I had, I was able to see it worked for the greater good.”
Linder said volunteer work also has helped him cope with the death of his 12-year-old daughter, Olivia, who died tragically in a swimming accident in 2010.
“I’ve found that the best way to deal with pain is to give back,” he said. “You can’t experience life to the fullest without the hills and the valleys, and I’ve had the privilege to experience both.”
Linder considers his upcoming graduation a gift. “I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and reminiscing, especially about when my mom was a student here. She wasn’t able to finish and walk across that stage.
“This, this is for her.”