President’s 37th Commencement Remarks

By Nicholas Covino June 04, 2017

On behalf of our Trustees, Faculty, Staff, Students and our honored guests, I welcome you to the 37th Commencement Exercises of William James College.

We gather here today to celebrate the diligent work of our friends and our family members. For some there might be a sigh of relief that this day has finally come. Others are accustomed to the accomplishments of your high-achieving person. However you arrived here, we welcome you and invite you to learn about our college and the important work that your graduate will be doing soon.

Mario Cuomo is reported to have said: Speakers at Commencement are like the corpse at an Irish wake: you need them to have the party, but you truly hope that they don’t say very much. With your indulgence, I would like to say a few things to set the stage. 

Our Grand Marshall this morning is Mrs. Elaine Toomey and Dr. Sam Moncata (Faculty) and Mr. Mario Murga (Director of Admissions) will be distributing diplomas. 

Elaine is our Director of Financial Aid who will be retiring this summer. For more than a dozen years, she has educated and counseled students around their borrowing. She reviews their budgets, brings in programs and, as if they are her family, she actively discourages them from taking on too much debt. 

Unlike research universities where students come to support faculty work, our professors and staff are here to support student learning. When students get stuck they are not liabilities on a research team or threats to grant funding, they are people who need help. Our faculty and staff are good at helping; Sam and Mario are two of the most generous and attentive sustainers of our students and we honor them today for their investment in them with this role. 

Two measures of the strength of a graduate program are the % who graduate and the default rate on student loans. The national average for completing graduate programs in psychology is 60% and the default rate on loans is 13%. Thanks to our faculty and staff, 89% of our students graduate and the loan default rate at William James College is 1%. 

Please help us to thank Elaine, Sam, Mario and their colleagues with your applause.

We have 13 graduates with us today who began their doctoral studies at Forest Institute in Springfield Missouri. When their school suddenly closed two years ago, they were angry and afraid, but they resiliently worked to conclude their education through a “teach out” program with us.  They could have given up, but I am proud to say that all of them have finished their work, and on time, and each has completed a prestigious pre-doctoral internship approved by the American Psychological Association. Congratulations

Dr. Stacey Lambert our Clinical Chair asked me to note the important role that Dr. David Mrad played as the shepherd who guided them through these two years in Missouri. Dr. Mrad’s wife sadly was diagnosed recently with ALS and he needed to remain with her. They are accompanied by one of their teachers, Dr. Brad Powers.

Please welcome our Missouri contingent to Boston and to the William James Community.

Dr. Lambert wrote of Dr. Mrad: “He is so nice that we even became Facebook friends… and I don’t like that many people! I am pretty sure that she meant that she doesn’t “Like” that many people in the Facebook way.

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 than105 FTE professionals.  To tell you about a few:

Maria Novak did her field work at Cradles 2 Crayons and developed a template for manager training there. She researched best practices and worked closely with the staff to understand the organization’s values and culture and built the training and hiring protocols that they now use to evaluate potential candidates for cultural fit. C2C also made her module a template for all of their trainings.

Britney Johnson was selected as the Rhode Island School Psychology Student of the year for her creative use of evidence based practice, her ability to engage parents, teachers and students in collaborative planning and her generosity of spirit as a volunteer with the Rhode Island Special Olympics, Make a Wish Foundation and the pediatric unit of the Hospital for Special Care.

While she was in school with us, Counseling student Sgt. Jennifer Gendron did a tour of duty in Iraq, gave birth to a baby and secured a job as a counselor for next year at YOU INC in Worcester. Nice work Sgt.!

I heard about Weiyen Chung’s colloquium on the experience of microaggression among Asian American college students in my office on the 5th floor the day that it was presented.  People were talking throughout the building and complimenting the thoughtful insights and the rich material that she obtained from Asian students about their difficult racial experiences in college. And we are grateful to Maegan Kenney who did significant work to organize our William James Forum and brought several educational programs on Opioid Addiction into our community.

On April 15, 2013 at 2:49, the world changed forever for our graduate Patrick Downes. Patrick and his wife of only several months Jessica Kensky were standing next to one of the bombs that exploded during the Boston Marathon. Patrick lost one leg and Jessica has now lost two. You can come to know the details of their challenging recovery in the press and in the current movies about the Marathon Bombing. 

I call Patrick’s name because, although he has regained his mobility to the point of competing several times in the Boston Marathon, once as a runner with a blade, he has been devoted to his wife’s recovery, remaining with her at Walter Reed Army Hospital for the past two years. Secondly, Patrick has emerged as a leader and an advocate for the Boston Strong community and, while completing his unfinished doctoral work with us, he and one of our former Commencement Speakers Senator Tammy Duckworth filed a National Trauma Survivors bill in Congress to create, among other things, the ability of civilians to access the surgical and orthopedic services that they received at Walter Reed.

William James College attracts and supports bright and compassionate leaders who will leave here today with the skills to meet the needs in their community and make a difference. (End Slide)

The needs that they will encounter, however, 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.

Four of the six leading causes of disability and death in the world are related to mental health (Depression, Anxiety, Substance Abuse, Bi-polar)

If you are a person of color or a soldier who wishes to obtain care, you will meet a non-Latino Caucasian civilian 90% of the time.

Business loses 2 hours of productivity for every employee with a Behavioral Health Problem who is not being treated. The country loses $63 Billion dollars every year due to absenteeism and presenteeism when untreated workers show up for work, but they are impaired.

Many chronic illnesses have behavioral health comorbidity. Twenty pecent of Asthma patients have comorbid anxiety that interferes with their treatment. The cost of caring for someone with Diabetes and Depression is 17X greater than caring for Diabetes alone.

If we could look at children for a moment we will see that:

1 in 5 children has a diagnosable mental illness. This means that 4 children in a class of 20 has a diagnosable mental illness. This means that the other 16 have to deal with the learning challenges of these children and it likely leads to the extreme difficulty keeping first-time teachers for more than 5 years. 30-50% leave the field.

Can we look at 20%. We have a bit more than 1100 in this room. Our graduates are 10% if we go back 10 rows I will ask you to raise your hands. That is a lot of people, but that is 1 in 5 children with a mental illness. If we said, that those with hands raised had heart disease or cancer, we would be sad. If we say that these 20% had the flu, we’d be concerned, and if they had a communicable disease, we would be very uncomfortable, even maybe think of leaving. But when it is mental health, we overlook it.

Because we don’t see the problem, we don’t create appropriate systems of care. We don’t budget for services and our neglect means that 70% of parents are UNABLE to obtain care

What we fail to do for mental health adversely affects our Children, our Schools, the quality and cost of our Health Care and Justice Systems, our Economy and our Quality of Life.  We must do better.

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. 

Please thank them for stepping forward to meet this need with your applause.

Endnote

People know that a Commencement Ceremony is not an end but it is a beginning.

Business and industry need the leadership and organizational skills that you have honed here. You can help to create healthy, respectful, relational work environments for us to spend our day in.

Two-thirds of primary care doctors cannot find psychology professionals to help them with their patients. Now they have you.

Education, health care, the courts, and the classroom all need the skills that you have acquired at William James College. As you leave know that you can call on us to continue to be part of your learning and growth.

We invite you to invest generously so that one day you will sit where our honorees sat today!