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A Degree In The Making: Penn State Alum Earns Diploma 56 Years Later

It’s never too late to finish what you’ve started. These days, nobody knows that better than newly minted Penn State alum Eric Linde.

Linde earned a bachelor’s degree in business in December from Penn State, 56 years after initially enrolling at University Park.

He started out as an aerospace engineering major in the summer of 1964 after taking an interest in the Space Race. But after struggling to keep up with the material, he switched his studies to general studies. However, he then decided it was best to leave Penn State entirely in 1966.

Courtesy of Eric Linde

Following his departure, Linde worked in construction before starting his own construction business, Leeward Construction, in his hometown of Honesdale, Pa. in 1993.

However, not finishing his degree was something that always bothered Linde. He said it wasn’t until he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2014 that he knew it was now or never.

“I just shifted gears,” Linde said. “Reality set in, and I thought, ‘You’re only going to be around for so long.’ I just felt I had unfinished business, and I had always wondered what it would have been like to have finished and how my life path would have changed.”

From there, Linde enrolled at Penn State’s World Campus, taking online courses to work toward the degree he always dreamed of getting. While there were some challenges along the way, of course, Linde found that the time he spent in class on his computer was therapeutic and helped his fine motor skills on the right side of his body, which is the affected side of his Parkinson’s.

“It kept me going, and it’s kept my mind going,” Linde said. “I believe that it has a lot to do with the fact that I haven’t progressed in the Parkinson’s that much.”

Although World Campus’s flexibility was an added plus for Linde, he knew he wanted to finish his degree at Penn State Scranton, which holds a special place in him and his family’s heart. He and his wife, Mary Anne, whom he met at University Park, have a mentoring program endowed there. Two of his children graduated from Penn State Scranton, too.

Despite having left all those years ago, Linde never lost his passion for Penn State. He’s even had the same football seats for the last 56 years.

Courtesy of Eric Linde

Once he made the transition from World Campus to Penn State Scranton, Linde got a taste of what an in-person class was like. Well, until the coronavirus pandemic hit and sent him back to online classes again.

Although graduation was held virtually, it didn’t take away from the emotional moment of Linde finally earning his degree.

“I had tears in my eyes. I didn’t think it would affect me that way,” Linde said. “I was kind of joking [that] I was not going to watch it virtually but in the end, I did sit down and I was kind of glued to the screen. And it began to dawn on me that I had actually graduated.”

While he and his family initially planned for a celebration years ago, they decided to push the party back until June when it will hopefully be safer. Plus, he could celebrate his granddaughter’s graduation from college as well.

Linde’s advice to anyone who is working towards their college degree? Don’t be in a rush.

“I was in a hurry, and I didn’t finish school. I just thought I couldn’t spend two more years there,” Linde said. “[I thought] I needed to get out and work, and I was wrong. I’ve known that for a long time.”

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About the Author

Mackenzie Cullen

Mackenzie is a junior majoring in English and is one of Onward State's associate editors. She is from Minersville, PA, and is always trying to explain exactly where that is. Send all compliments to [email protected] or @MackenzieC__ on Twitter.

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