Col. Eries L.G. Mentzer challenged graduates at Troy University’s Montgomery Campus on Monday night to commit to effecting change and serving others.
Speaking to the nearly 160 graduates participating in Monday night’s fall commencement ceremony held inside the Davis Theatre for the Performing Arts, Col. Mentzer, Commander of Maxwell Air Force Base, recalled her own college journey – one filled with numerous challenges that she overcame with the help of others.
“I was the first woman in my entire family tree to attend college, and the honor that meant to me was tremendous,” she said. “But, imagine the shame I felt when I had to drop out of college after only one semester. It was through the help of amazing mentors and counselors that not long after that, I dropped back in.”
Col. Mentzer achieved an ROTC scholarship only to lose it when she stepped on the scales and was not within the Air Force standard weight. After six weeks of hard work in the gym, she got her scholarship back, but it was through the help of a fellow cadet that she was successfully able to navigate the program and her academics and commission in the United States Air Force.
“Throughout your life, I’m sure there have been people along your journey that helped to make this moment tonight possible,” Col. Mentzer said. “Whether they were parents, friends, faculty or counselors, you did not get here alone. That’s one of the most powerful lessons I learned along my journey – don’t go it alone. As your graduate tonight, I want you to think about that. Who was it that helped you get here? The greatest gift that you can give as you depart here tonight is to extend them your gratitude.”
Col. Mentzer also recalled one of her favorite courses in college – a political science course based on the books of Dr. Seuss.
“I signed up for it because I had a really heavy course load and I needed a little bit of a break,” she said. “I thought, ‘this is an easy A.’ It was not. The point of the class was to find the deeper meaning within each Dr. Seuss book and then be able to articulate it.”
Her favorite book from the class was “Yertle the Turtle.” The story, she explained, revolved around a turtle’s quest for power. The turtle crawls from the pond onto a rock and believes that he is the king of all he can see. In a continued quest to gain more power and a larger “kingdom,” the turtle begins to stack other turtles on top of one another so that he may climb higher and higher. Yertle, the little turtle at the bottom of the stack, decides the load is too heavy and brings the entire stack of turtles tumbling down.
“Our instructor talked about how it only takes one person bring about massive change. It doesn’t matter where you sit, where you come from, who you are, what your position is, you can effect change,” she told the graduates. “You don’t have to have great power or great position or great pay to effect change. No matter what degree you are graduating with tonight, our country needs your leadership. You don’t have to wear a uniform like mine to serve, but I ask whatever your background is that when you walk out of these doors tonight you continue to choose to serve. You make the difference. Our nation is not perfect. Our founding fathers had an amazing idea about what this country could be and over decades we have worked to perfect it. Now it is up to all of us, to each of us, to look to all of those people who have helped to make our nation great and say, ‘What can I do?’ Be the change. Freedom is not free, and we count on you to preserve, to protect, to perfect this great country.”
As commander of the 42nd Air Wing Base, Mentzer leads all base operating, infrastructure and services support for the 42,000 active duty, reserve and contract personnel, students and families at Maxwell and Gunter Annex.
She provides direct support to Air University, the 908th Airlift wing, Air Force Materiel Command units, the Defense Information Systems Agency and more than 40 mission partners who operate on the base. She partners with local officials across a three-county, 12-city region with an annual military economic impact of $1.2 billion.