Thirty-Third Commencement Remarks, 2013

President's Remarks

Nicholas A. Covino, President, William James College

On behalf of our Trustees, Faculty, Staff, Students and our honored guests, I welcome you to the 33rd Commencement Exercises of William James College.

Today is our very best day.  We come to celebrate the achievements of our graduates and the success of your friend, your child, your partner, your mom or your dad who has read thousands of pages of academic material, (sometimes at the dinner table; sometimes while keeping you up late at night), spent hundreds of hours learning as much about themselves as about their professional field, arrived late to more events than they would like to have and slept far fewer hours than a normal person should, in order to acquire the degree that will be confirmed shortly.

As you sit with us this morning, you will find that William James College is not a typical institution of higher learning.  Most colleges and universities are research institutes whose job is to discover and disseminate new knowledge. Their top priority is to conduct investigations and train scholars to do the same as well as to teach.  At William James College, we educate professionals to bring the best psychological research and skills into the community to improve the quality of work and the quality of life for all people.

Where a Business School will rightly encourage their graduates to 'Lean In' in order to be successful; William James College encourages our students to "Reach Out."

A William James College graduate may well advance to a C-Suite office, however we trust that all of those before us today will not only address gender inequities in the workplace that Sheryl Sandberg outlines, but that they will use their William James College education to assist clients to examine their own values, to make the career choices that they want to make; be they to sit at the head of the table in a boardroom, or to sit in the bleachers cheering a ballgame…or to balance their lives with both… whether they are female or male. 

At yesterday's Mental Health Matters conference Dr. Keane quoted Yale psychology Professor Allen Kazdin who said two years ago (Kazdin,2011): " After years of research and a healthy list of Evidence Based Treatments…it is still the case that most people in need of (mental health) services fail to receive them and disparities in providing services remain enormous." For our graduates today, it has never been more important to our country that they use their education to "Reach Out."

It is critical to "Reach Out" when 1 out of 5 children have significant mental illness; when childhood suicide strikes children as young as four years old and completed suicide is the third leading cause of death of among teens. 

Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher who was our Comment Speaker last year writes that we have the knowledge and the skills to effectively treat suicide and the other emotionally painful and limiting problems of childhood, but more than 60% of parents who wish to obtain mental health care for their children in this country are unable to; due to the critical shortage of mental health professionals who are available to help.

The largest study of LGBT couples in the European Union recently found that 66% of women and 75% of men experience so much verbal aggression and abuse from other people that they are afraid to hold their same-sex partner's hand in public.  It is essential that we 'Reach Out' to educate, to advocate and to support our brothers and sisters.

The Hidden Wounds of depression, anxiety and substance abuse impact between 18 and 33% of our returning veterans, depending on the study, and the children of deployed families develop 5X more behavioral problems than non-deployed military families. Surveys of Vietnam veterans find that 90% of their marriages have ended in divorce and that their suicide and accidental death rate is 33% above the national norm. 

The Vietnam veteran research indicates that is imperative to "Reach Out" within the first five years of returning home…before more intractable psychological and social problems establish themselves.  But, we have an inadequate number of mental health professionals properly trained and available to care for them. 

William James College's unique Train Vets to Treat Vets® program educates those with military experience to 'Reach Out' to their comrades in arms with a professional education in psychology and the bona fides of one who has 'been there.'  They will bridge the siloed worlds of military culture and mental health practice; they will build upon the warriors' strengths to provide care without inviting pathology; and they will convey to their clients and to the military that mental fitness requires self-care and that psychological therapy, like physical therapy, makes a soldier strong, not weak.

A few short years ago, a William James College graduate, Dr. Cynthia Lucero died while running in the same Boston Marathon where one of our students and his wife both lost a leg this April.  From the grief accompanying Cynthia's death, the Lucero Latino Mental Health program was born like a phoenix.

People whose first language is not English prefer, and sometimes require, that mental health care be delivered in their native tongue. Unlike in medicine, psychotherapy cannot easily be moderated by an interpreter. The United States Census finds that twenty percent of our population speaks a language other than English at home, yet less than 2% of mental health professionals are capable of delivering language and culturally competent mental health care to them.   Today 14 Lucero Latino Mental Health graduates join the workforce to Reach Out as multilingual providers for these populations of underserved people.

In this country, we have rides, and walks, and concerts for each of the major medical illnesses and we donate millions of dollars to research hospitals and causes every year.  Yet, we sit…largely in silence…holding onto the stigma of mental illness.  We need to "Reach Out."

Mental illness is among the world's most common health care problems.  Depression alone will soon be the third leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the world.  The problem is so common that I am confident every time that I speak, most everyone who is present in the room, will have a first degree relative with a mental illness or a substance abuse problem.

Today's William James College graduates are here to 'Reach Out'… to respond to mental health needs whether they show themselves in a college dormitory, an elementary school classroom, an organization's work team, or in a court clinic, a hospital or a health care center. 

Likewise, we confer the Doctor of Humane Letters degree on five individuals whose lives exemplify what it means to "Reach Out."  They are not being recognized because of their corporate power or for their net wealth.  They are here because they have chosen to invest in our Commonwealth.

United States Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth is an American Hero and an outspoken advocate for veterans and small business owners who has held leadership positions in Veterans Affairs at both the state and federal government level.  Mr. Anthony Jimenez is an Army veteran who has created an impressive culture of community service among his employees at MicroTech and he is an indefatigable supporter of veterans care and Latino businesses.  Dr. Terence Keane is an academic psychologist and a clinician who has spent his entire professional life working with our military veterans and he has built an exemplary clinical research center to better understand and to care for them.  Dr. Ron Kessler's research is the most cited of any mental health investigator in the world and his studies create the foundation for the work that mental health professionals do every day.

Finally, while she was a William James College student, Air Force Sergeant Janice Furtado gave her time to help us to create a program to attract and to educate those with military experience for mental health careers to serve to our returning military and their families.  Mrs. Mello, Janice' mother, told me this week that the Department of Veterans Affairs just informed her that they determined Janice's death to be service related and that Sgt. Janice Furtado is deemed to be a hero who died in the service of her country.

Janice' unusual gifts of leadership and collaboration inspired and informed William James College's Military and Veterans Psychology (MVP®) program.  Everyone knew, loved and was moved by this extraordinary woman, veteran, diligent student and compassionate humanitarian and we set a chair for her behind me, knowing that her presence is among us here today.

Let me tell you about a few of our graduates who are already "Reaching Out."  Navy Lt. Greg Matos brought his prior experience as a Marine together with his William James College student-veteran colleagues to collaborate on the creation of our Military Veterans Psychology (MVP®) training program. Ryan Hagen, under the mentorship of Dr. Brian Ott, had the creative idea to use Passive Smartphone data to Assess Mood.  When I interviewed Keena Dean for Admissions, I read that she was a television celebrity; I didn't hear it from her.  For the next six years, she served as a supporting actor, not a star, being present at almost every school event, finding ways to serve the school's mission. Meghan Oppenheimer developed a positive psychology intervention model for inner city children in Philadelphia that cultivated their spiritual strengths.  Peter Korn of our Counseling program co-authored a paper in the Journal Psychiatric Rehabilitation on Older Adults' Perceptions of Recovery from Mental Illness. Dirk Kumerlee of our OLP program developed  a free, interactive website to provide mental health information to veterans. Amanda Tripp Hayes served as a student leader for the National Association of School Psychologists and on the Board of that local organization.

And Gureen Singh will present her Capstone project entitled "Understanding Racism as a Form of Complex Trauma" at the 2013 Asian American Psychological Association meetings in Honolulu.

Finally though, let me tell you about Mr. Timothy Ridge.   After Janice Furtado's death, Mr. Ridge approached his Dean to ask that he be allowed to complete Janice's dissertation so that she could be awarded her doctoral degree with her class today.  With compassion and admiration, Dr. Beck let him know that it wouldn't be possible, as this project must be the personal work of the graduate. Tim then came to me and I was equally moved.  After an obligatory psychoanalytic interpretation that Tim was gentleman enough to endure from me, we agreed that he would write Janice's work up, only after he had finished his own and, out of respect and love, he completed two projects where most students find challenge in completing one. Not military, but Tim exemplifies the important value of never leaving a comrade behind.

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

Grand Marshall

Our Grand Marshall for today is Mr. Peter Berenson who has been a member of our Board of Trustees for more than 10 years.  For six of these, Peter served as Chair of the Board of Trustees.  It was during his tenure as Chair that William James College experienced greater diversity and significant program growth.  In addition to his leadership of the Board, Mr. Berenson has been very involved with the Finance and the Institutional Advancement Committee.

In recognizing Mr. Berenson and his service, we also acknowledge the planning, stewardship and philanthropic work of the entire Board of Trustees that is essential to the success of William James College's Mission.  You may not see them in the corridors of William James College as much, but they are responsible for the corridors being there.  With your applause, please recognize our Grand Marshall Mr. Peter Berenson.

Award for Teaching Excellence

William James College graduates 87% of those who enroll at our school.  Graduate schools across the country only do as well as 60%.  Because the support, commitment, interest and expertise of faculty profoundly impact the work and the culture of our learning environment, every year we want to take a moment to recognize a faculty member's special contribution.  Let me ask our VPAA Dr. Stan Berman to introduce this year's Award for Excellence in Teaching

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. 

We are honored today to have the Attorney General of the Commonwealth present to introduce Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth.  Attorney General Martha Coakley is a person whose reach is as broad as an NBA Center.  She is a staunch advocate for those who are disempowered; creating services, policy and a voice for victims of violence, children who have been abused, veterans and LGBT people.  My friend Susan who had a recent meeting with the AG, noticed the same thing that I did when I met with her; even though she is an extraordinarily busy person, Attorney General Coakley has a remarkable attentiveness and a presence that makes you feel that you are the most important person in the room. 

Please welcome Attorney General Martha Coakley who will introduce our Commencement Speaker.

[Duckworth Address, Citation and Degree Award]

Dr. Arlene Silva is a member of our School Psychology faculty and it was she who suggested that I read Ms. Sandberg's book.  The best delivery system for mental health care for poor and middle class children is within our schools.  That is where the children are, yet school systems and state licensing boards need to be led to see this better.  Dr. Silva is an advocate for School Psychology and she has served as Chair of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) Early Career Workgroup since its inception in 2009.   She promotes a collaborative consultation model, that empowers teachers in the process, and she writes about the best practices for mentoring early career school psychology professionals. 

Please welcome Dr. Silva who will introduce our next Honorary Degree Recipient; Dr. Ronald Kessler.

[Kessler proclamation and degree awarded]

One of our William James College Trustees is Mr. Michael Schell.  Mike is a recovering attorney with considerable experience in business. He is an experienced Trustee and he is himself, a humanitarian with a passion for social justice and service.  Please welcome William James College Trustee Mr. Mike Schell who will introduce our next honoree; Mr. Anthony Tony Jimenez.  [Jimenez proclamation and degree awarded] Among our most sought-after supervisors is Dr. Bob Dingman and he is the Director of our Military and Veterans Psychology program.  Bob's unusual respect for learning and for his students often has him genuinely report that he has learned as much from his students as they have from him.  They, on the other hand, always protest his perspective, as they enthusiastically embrace the man.

Please welcome Dr. Bob Dingman who will introduce our next Honorary Degree Recipient, Dr. Terence Keane.

[Keane proclamation and degree awarded]

Retired Colonel Cheryl Lucier Poppe is the Deputy Secretary of Programs and Services for the Massachusetts Department of Veterans Services.  In addition to helping to manage the general affairs of a very busy office, Cheryl is a staunch advocate for women in the military and has been deeply committed to serving the needs of our women veterans.  She is, also, a very good friend of William James College.  Deputy Secretary Poppe will introduce our last Honorary Degree, awarded posthumously to Sgt. Janice Furtado.

May I ask the parents and Family of Janice Furtado to join me at the podium.

[Furtado Degree conferred]

Conferral of Degrees

VP Stan Berman and Deans Frances Mervyn and Ken Hopkins will present the diplomas to our graduates and the program heads will call the roll of our graduates. 

You will notice that the black robes and hoods of our graduates are similar, but different.  The hoods that look like capes, all bear the colors of William James College on the inside,  but the bunting will be a different width for master's and doctoral programs.  Those receiving a doctorate have distinctive gowns with stripes on the sleeves and larger velvet facing.  And everyone asks what side of the cap the tassel is to be worn, the official answer is the left side and it stays there. But it is on a hat, it moves around and it blows in the wind, so for practical purposes, it doesn't matter.  However, you might want to pass the time by counting how many lefties and righties there are in today's procession!

Will the Directors present their graduates please!


Before we end, there are several 'William James College FIRSTS' to acknowledge.  Today we graduated the first class with an MA degree in Media Psychology, an MA in Applied Psychology; Higher Education and Student Personnel Administration and our first Doctors of Psychology in School Psychology.  This is, also, the first graduating class from our new building on Wells Avenue. Today Karim Nashef follows his brother big brother Aziz out of the Clinical Psychology program creating our first sibling graduates and Greg Matos Tabashneck and Stephanie Matos Tabashneck, while not the first married couple to graduate from William James College, they are the first to accomplish that together.

Will you please give them all a round of applause.

The word "Commencement" does not mean an ending, it means a New Beginning.  As you move forward, we hope, as Ms. Sandberg advises, that you continue to be reflective about any internal psychological conflict that might limit your own success. 

However, I will say that, the Return on Investment for a degree higher education in psychology is not the dollars that you put in your pocket; it is the change that you make in the lives of others!  One does not need to be the smartest person in the room to make a difference; one only needs only to decide to get involved and then to stay involved.

"I am only one, but still I am one," Helen KeIler wrote, "I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do."

At a very local level on 1 Wells Avenue, you have reached out to us and we have reached out to you.  We have a relationship that will endure past this moment. As you take leave, I want to remind you in the words of ET to 'Phone Home' from time to time.   William James College needs your help to fulfill our mission and to be able to continue to Reach Out.  We all thank you for your trust.