President’s 38th Commencement Remarks

By Nicholas Covino June 03, 2018

On behalf of our Trustees, Faculty, Staff, Students and our honored guests, I welcome you to the 38th Commencement Exercises of William James College.

This is a day to celebrate and it is a day of thanksgiving. At a psychology Commencement, giving thanks begins at home. Will the parents and partners of our graduates raise their hands, please?

We know the many hours and effort and dollars that parents contribute to the care and feeding of a child.  The research on Attachment and Developmental psychologists tells us that: the deep and enduring bond that a parent creates with a child is the key to the young person’s capacity to regulate emotion, to feel secure about exploring the world and to attach to others with a sense of safety.  Intelligence is highly correlated with parental IQ, but qualities of character like compassion, generosity, and empathy are forged in the crucible of hundreds of thousands of parent/child interactions across many years and.  In marriage, these values have the opportunity to deepen.

Your graduate is smart, but her and his compassionate desire and capacity to improve the world for others began in your kitchen and in your living room, on the practice fields and on summer vacations with your investment in them and with your love. You are among the main reasons that they are sitting before us.  Let me ask our graduates to rise and turn to thank your family for their many gifts.

Many students begin their graduate career and fail to complete it. The average rate for graduates of any post-baccalaureate program is 50% and for psychology degrees it is not much better at 60%.  Each year, William James College graduates 89% of those who begin with us. This is not because we are easy graders, but it is because those who do the grading are practicing psychology professionals whose careers are spent helping organizations and people to get unstuck when they experience challenge. Our faculty’s work begins when other programs are considering discharging their students in trouble. 

Today we highlight the contributions of three of our faculty and staff: Dr. Lionel Joseph is our Grand Marshall of the celebration. Lionel is retiring from the faculty after 12 years of teaching in the Clinical Psychology Program. Distributing the diplomas are our Emeritus Dean Alan Beck who chaired the Department of Clinical Psychology and is one of the architects of the growth and development of William James College and our Registrar Ms. Sonji Paige who, like many of our staff, is an invested administrator and an informal counselor for our students. I’d like to ask these three to stand. 

Today is also a day to thank our faculty and staff for their work that ranges from 1-2-3-5 or more years and, for their passionate investment in our graduates. I’d like to ask all of our Faculty and Staff to rise for your applause.

These days, education is presented less of an art or a science and more as a commodity.  Government officials and Industry leaders promote the Technology and STEM fields and they emphasize the Return on Investment as if jobs and gross income are the principal measures of a successful education.

One can make a good living as a psychology professional, but the call to this work is not about the money.  People are drawn to psychology out of compassion. As in the Hebrew Tikkun Olam our graduates will leave here with the tools and with the desire to repair and replace what is not right with the world through their leadership and their clinical work.  For our graduates the ‘return’ on investment always involves bringing benefit to another. It means helping a youngster to manage his anxiety so that he can succeed at school; it means creating culturally respectful and responsible work environments and building effective teams; it means working with an incarcerated adult to free himself from drugs; and it means helping a mom and dad to keep their marriage and their family together.

An education at William James College changes lives; but, more, it enables the 200 graduates before you to position themselves to help thousands of others to repair and to improve their lives.b We teach our students to help others to solve problems; these days, this is a skill with a lot of demand.     

William James was the First Psychologist in America. He started a research lab at Harvard, but he never used it. His belief was that psychology should be applied to remediate human problems and that students should learn their craft by doing it under supervision of experienced professionals. Experiential Education means that while they learn, William James College students work in the community. This year they contributed more than 185,000 hours of psychological services to the community which is the equivalent to the work of more than 120 FTE professionals.  

We are fortunate to work in the world of Adult Education which means that our students often contribute as much learning to our institution as they receive. Let me tell you about a few:

Adam Freed had an early interest in the intersection of neuroscience and psychoanalysis that brought him to the Anna Freud Center in London and the Yale Child Study Center. As a student clinician he met a number of Veterans and their families and became curious about military culture; so he joined the Army. Some of us would have read a book or watched a few movies! Adam transferred from a doctoral program in NYC to be part of our Train Vets to Treat Vets specialization at William James. In his second year he was deployed to Afghanistan as the officer in charge of a transportation platoon. Upon his return in 2014, Captain Freed received the prestigious F. Edward Hebert Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship program. Parenthetically, a William James College military student has won one of the five nationally awarded Armed Forces Fellowships EIGHT Times in the past Six years.  Adam has played a key role as a student in helping to shape the curriculum and experience of our Military Veterans Psychology program at William James College.

Fabiola Jean-Felix is a graduate of our MA Counseling program who continued to pursue her doctorate in clinical psychology. She sought out multiple learning opportunities, being in both the Child and the Latino Mental Health concentrations. In addition to excelling academically, she consistently and persistently supported important student activities at WJC in every way that she could.

In this country, nearly 90% of the mental health professionals of every discipline (e.g., psychology, mental health counseling, psychiatry, social work) are non-Latino Caucasian. William James College is making an intentional investment in diversifying this profession, while still a student with us Fabiola, helped to found the Black Mental Health Graduate Academy, and she has been a significant contributor.

Faculty member Joan Axelrod told me that April Clayton is amazing. She had several years of working in the Criminal Justice system in Oregon and was so moved by the trauma and mental health needs of incarcerated people that she moved to Boston to further her education. She mentors our BA completion students and organized a support group for parents returning to graduate school. It is the desire of my heart,” she writes, “to become an agent of social change and to use my education to make the world a safer place for everyone.”

Maria Dixon received an award from the Massachusetts Association for Marriage and Family Therapy for her extraordinary accomplishments and commitment in the Study of the Field of Marriage and Family Therapy. Maria works at Justice Resource Institute and worked full time while attending WJC. She reports that he has had the privilege of working with some extraordinary families that suffer in silence. They live with the fear of deportation, depression, trauma, exploitation, racism, and forced assimilation due to their immigrant status. As a native Spanish speaking clinician, she wants to support these families in learning to use their skills, strengths, and resiliency, to promote healthy connections.

Holly Miller, has been working with hearing impaired children with mental health challenges for over 15 years as a school psychologist. Since coming to WJC, she has acquired specialized training in assessing the risk of fire setting and working with adolescents with significant behavioral concerns in residential programs. Holly has already begun to help professionals to learn more about this underserved population, and she is part of the special interest group on Deaf and hearing impaired students at the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). She is an outstanding professional, but, I’m told she is very modest and will likely not enjoy being singled out, however, the faculty told me that if I mention that she is an enormous fan of Broadway musicals, all will be fine.

As we reach the top, you are probably saying; “gee, I didn’t know that David Ortiz is gradating today. Jean Frejuste did become a big pappy four months ago with the birth of his daughter. Today he graduates from our Masters in Organizational Psychology program, and tomorrow he will continue to be the Assistant Director of IT, Enterprise Systems and Services at William James College.  Jean is one of the most engaging, upbeat and creative members of our staff. What a lot to accomplish this year, while working full-time! 

The needs that our graduates will meet are significant. Mental Health is the overlooked crisis in health care. All of us in the room have a close family member with a substance abuse or mental health problem and we are quiet about it.

More than two-thirds of incarcerated young people have a diagnosable mental illness. Two hours of every working day for 25% of employees is unproductive due to substance use or mental health challenges. The leading cause of failure to graduate from high school is untreated depression and anxiety. When a diabetic has depression it is 17X more costly to care for them and when someone with depression has a heart attack, they are twice as likely to die as the patient without depression. Teachers leave their profession at a rate of 25% in five years because they can’t successfully manage today’s classrooms and 60% of the families of 1 of 5 youngsters in need of mental health will be unable to find a therapist.

What we are failing to do in the treatment of mental illness costs American business close to $200 Billion and it adds $3-400 Billion to the expense of health care. It fills our prisons and cheats our young people of an education.

The former Surgeon General David Satcher said: ‘We have excellent, evidence based treatments in mental health, we just don’t have enough providers. Our graduates are part of the solution. These young professionals are ambassadors of hope. When people enter into mental health care, 7-8 times of 10 they get better. 

Let us recognize the contribution that our graduates are about to make to our country and thank them for stepping forward with your applause.

Endnote

People know that a Commencement Ceremony is not an end but it is a beginning. We know that you are well trained and we have been graced by the many qualities of character that you have brought to William James College. As you leave we invite you to invest generously in others so that one day you will sit where our honorees sat today!