Thirty-Second Commencement Remarks, 2012

Welcoming Remarks

Nicholas A. Covino, President, William James College

On behalf of our Trustees, Faculty, Staff, Students and our honored guests, I welcome all of you to the 32nd Commencement Exercises of William James College.

Today is a day where we celebrate the success of our graduates who have worked seriously and diligently to acquire the degree that will be confirmed in a few moments.  We are here as witnesses because these degree candidates are very important people to us. 

William James College is not a typical institution of higher learning, but, in some fashion, today’s graduates resemble those from traditional academic programs.  Julienne Singer, for example, presented in Greece on Positive Leadership; Eben Lasker gave two papers to the Society of Descriptive Psychology at national meetings-- one on the meaning of addiction and another on play therapy; while completing her own studies, Alicia Simiatin has been a research coordinator at the VA studying rehabilitation strategies for veterans with traumatic brain injury, I read Miram Kolko’s research rich and clinical helpful Capstone Project on the Effect of Parental Deployment on Military Children and Michele Contreras co-chaired a committee on Human Trafficking with the American Psychological Association that led to an instructional DVD. 

William James College attracts experienced students who contribute while they learn.  The same Michele Contreras arranged a sophisticated summer immersion experience for our Latino Mental Health students with psychologists in her native Guatemala and Noor Amawi has been working with Dr. Richard Mollica to develop our Global Mental Health training program.  Not every student accomplished what Rachel Kriete did at a leading Boston consulting company when she designed an intervention to boost employee performance and increase retention, but every year, William James College students affiliate with more than 275 mental health centers, schools, hospitals, court clinics and social service organizations and provide more than 168,000 hours of service to extend mental health care to underserved people in Boston throughout New England.

William James College is not a typical institution of higher learning; it is an institution that prioritizes relationships.  It is a main component of what we teach and it is the main method by which we teach.  Our students are well-versed in evidence-based treatments and they learn the critical importance of hypothesis generation, systematic data collection, analysis and evaluation.  However, they also learn that the relationship that they establish with their clients will account for as much or more of the treatment success than the particular intervention that they employed.   

I am certain that the reason that William James College brings 87% of its students to Commencement, where most graduate schools fail to graduate 40-50% of theirs, is the relationship that our students have with their supervisors, our staff and our faculty.  Let me share two recent notes that I received.  The first came when I announced an award that one of our faculty members received from her religious community.

“As a soon to be graduating student from William James College, I have to say that Shellee Robbins was one of the most influential people in my five years at William James College... and I have been blessed with many wonderful instructors and supervisors, so the fact that she stands out speaks more to her extraordinary qualities than to anything else. 

Her door was ALWAYS open to me and she has been supportive on so very many levels of my well being and education...well beyond her domain of duty.  I want to point out that I am not a member of her temple...and I'm not even Jewish...but a Muslim born immigrant from Iran.  I wish there was some kind of recognition of her from the school, for being the outstanding human being that she is.” 

I will excerpt another from the note of student who is a mother of several who drove from NY City to attend her weekend intensive classes at William James College:

“I made the decision to take this program, solely because of Michele Viti’s warmth and confidence in me… Michele deserves to be commended for her exemplary leadership charisma and authenticity. She is an expert at creating a powerful curriculum; one that has enriched us and will continue to influence us long after we leave the doors of William James College…She is a genuine person who really CARES about her students … and we feel it.”

Men and women in rewarding relationships live longer.  Women in good relationships have significantly less risk of heart disease.  And men with strong social supports recover more completely from heart attacks and live longer with HIV and AIDS.  On the other hand, those in poor relationships have an increased risk of death at the level of smoking 15 cigarettes a day and much more than the risks associated with chronic obesity.  Relationships are so important to health, financial success and happiness, that, to paraphrase the NY Times writer David Brooks:  “Colleges should only offer their students one subject: How to create and maintain a successful relationship.”

Psychologists believe that these beneficial relationships need not exist solely in real time.  We use words like mental representations, cognitive schemata and object relations to describe the manner in which a powerful relationship lives on in the mind and continues to influence our thinking, feeling and our behavior.  

This is the thirtieth anniversary of the movie ET, the Extra Terrestrial. You will recall after ET has ‘phoned home’ and his spaceship arrived, his little friend Elliott (and I am assuming it is a ‘he’) is in tears at the thought of losing him.  Without many words, the creature’s finger lights up and he points it at Eliott’s temple and he says simply and reassuringly: “In here.”  Powerful experiences with others comfort us and they guide us, even with separation...even in death.

Today, as we celebrate, Dr. Harriet Berman of our faculty and Sgt. Janice Furtado who helped us to create the Train Vets to Treat Vets® program are not with us; they, unfortunately, died this spring.  We also remember Dr. Cynthia Lucero who died ten years ago while running the Boston Marathon and who inspired our Lucero Latino Mental Health Program.  Even though they have passed, their presence continues to influence our work.  When our graduates help a veteran who is struggling with thoughts of suicide, or when they consult with a family to help a child who has been bullied, or when they create a management training program for an organization or business, they will be supported and directed by the experience with and the voices of those supervisors, teachers and colleagues with whom they have trained. This is what relationships do!

Those whom we recognize today with our Honorary Degrees are, also, masters of relationships. 

When William James College was struggling, it was a challenge to find good people to serve as Trustees.  As a number left, Mr. Richard Freedman invested more.  Rif is a businessman with the uncanny ability to know what to pay attention to in an organization and how to develop helpful relationships to support those who are charged with managing the work.  His advice is invaluable, but his presence is like that of a good parent; it allows us to feel safe to take risks and to have the confidence to grow.

Dr. Hortensia Amaro is one of the country’s premiere social scientists who has been a long-time friend of our Lucero Latino Mental Health Program.  As an expert in substance abuse treatment, she had the brilliant insight that women in recovery would be more likely to remain in treatment if they could go through the process and continue to care for their young children.  Her Mom’s Project and Moving On to Recovery and Empowerment programs are exemplary models of how engaging the power of relationship can heal.

Many credit Mayor Thomas Menino for his vision, his strength and his organizational ability… William James College celebrates his compassion.  Surrounded by the equally powerful, he uses his office to leverage the needs and the voices of the people in Boston’s neighborhoods.  I don’t believe that there is a mother in the city who has lost a child to violence who does not receive a visit or a telephone call from the Mayor; when young people must have summer jobs, his voice is raised to articulate need; when the poor of Boston were without accessible health care, Mr. Menino helped to create the partnership that is the Boston University Medical Center.  He is equally comfortable in every neighborhood of the City; he knows their needs and how to build upon the strength that comes from diversity.

We use one of Dr. David Satcher’s comprehensive reports on Mental Health, Child Mental Health or Culture, Race and Ethnicity every week at William James College.  One evening, at the end of a long day, I literally went in a storm to a lecture that Dr. Satcher was giving to be able to shake his hand and thank him for his extraordinary scholarship and social advocacy. 

Admiral Satcher is the only sitting Surgeon General to have called attention to the burden of mental illness in this country.  For example, Depression is the leading cause of disability in the world (not heart disease or asthma) and it affects 121 million people, about ¼ of whom have access to treatment.  Childhood cancer impacts fewer than 2 in10,000 children in the United States.  Childhood mental illness impacts 2 in10 and 60% of parents who seek mental health care for their children are unable to find a provider. 

Most articulately, Dr. Satcher called attention to the fact that less than 2% mental health professionals are capable of delivering linguistic and culturally competent mental health care to racial and ethnic minorities.  Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach called Dr. Satcher one of the country’s treasures and his committed relationship to disenfranchised people has been inspiring and transformational.   

William James College, also, stands at the threshold of its own New Beginning at a dignified building on Wells Avenue.  Yet, we have had a significant relationship with the City of Boston and, in particular, our neighbors at the West Roxbury High School.  Even as we plan for our new home, William James College is deepening our commitment to West Roxbury High by working to create a Center for Social Emotional Learning to bring more mental health care to the young people and their families who attend Westie.  Our hope is also to evolve this clinic into a model for mental health private/public partnership that can be applied to other city schools. 

Please join me with your applause to congratulate these 2012 graduates of William James College.

Grand Marshall

Our Grand Marshall for today is Dr. Jill Bloom.  Dr. Bloom, like so many of her colleagues, is an excellent lecturer and a remarkably available resource for students.  We asked her to lead the celebration today, because of her unwavering commitment to inclusiveness. 

With the creation of the Lucero Latino Mental Health Program, Dr. Bloom now has a number of faculty colleagues who are helping William James College to train culturally sensitive clinicians to serve racial and ethnic minorities.  However, for many years, she was herself a minority voice insisting on the importance of including gender, race, ethnicity and individual difference in the curriculum. Today, we want to recognize her many contributions.  With your applause, please help me to recognize and to thank Dr. Bloom.

Award for Teaching Excellence

Because the initiative and commitment of faculty profoundly impact the work and the culture of William James College, every year, we want to take a moment to recognize someone’s special contribution.   

Honorary Degrees and the Commencement Speech

The honorary doctorate is the highest academic recognition that a school can bestow.  It is conferred on those whose life and work have demonstrated the highest standards of excellence in academics, professional practice, personal integrity and service to the community. 

This degree is offered “honoris causa” or “out of respect or admiration.” A medieval tradition allows institutions of higher learning to waive the usual academic work that is the requirement of the doctor’s degree for those who have so distinguished themselves in the “college of life” that their accomplishments warrant this recognition and the academy desires them to be among its faculty of professors. 

You have heard me speak of Dr. Jill Bloom’s accomplishments; it gives me great pleasure to ask her to introduce our Commencement Speaker Dr. David Satcher.

[Satcher Address, Citation and Degree Award]

One of our community’s most articulate political observers is Boston Attorney Lawrence DiCara.  Larry is the youngest person to be elected to the Boston City Council.  I read someplace that, although he has a renowned prowess for recalling names, he was often challenged to remember the names of women.  Larry is now married and he and his wife Teresa, a William James College alum, are raising triplets who are all girls.  I will assume that by living with four women, his gender anomia has improved.  As a past candidate for Mayor of Boston and a former William James College trustee it seemed appropriate for us to ask Mr. DiCara to introduce our next honorary degree recipient, Mayor Thomas Menino.

[Menino proclamation and degree awarded]

One of William James College’s most creative child advocates and its best ambassador to the community is Margaret Hannah who directs out Richard and Joan Freedman Center for Children and Families. Her innovative work that rapidly matches clinicians with children and families who need care is drawing close attention from the state.  Let me ask her to introduce you to our next degree candidate, Mr. Rif Freedman.

[Freedman proclamation and degree awarded]

Since Dr. Stacey Lambert has joined William James College, our Latino Mental Health Training Program has significantly increased enrollment and it has a much improved structure.  Our Lucero LMHP program began with 7 students six years ago and we are now training 42 Spanish-speaking mental professionals to improve access to mental health care. Dr. Lambert is passionate advocate for inclusion and access to health care.  Let me ask her to tell you about our next degree candidate Dr. Hortensia Amaro.

[Amaro proclamation and degree awarded]