Los Angeles / Westwood / Irvine Commencement (10-22-11)

Dr. Michele Nealon-Woods  

President, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology 

Charge to the Graduates 

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology   

Los Angeles / Westwood / Irvine Commencement 

October 22, 2011 

Good morning graduates— 

As I look around the room today I see not only the changing face of America, but those that will be the catalysts for change in America for many years to come. A quick look at the 2010 Census data tells the story of just how much we have changed in the last 10 years. Consider, for example, that: 

  • America today is more diverse than ever before on almost every scale 
  • The Hispanic population has more than doubled – in fact today 1 in 6 Americans is Hispanic. 
  • The traditional nuclear family is changing, replaced by same-sex households, single households, and multi-generational families. Indeed, as a result of the economy and lagging job market, many more young adults are staying in college longer and then moving back home after they graduate. 
  • Gender roles are being redefined—women now dominate men at every level in higher education in terms of degree attainment—which may account at least in part for why people are marrying later and there are considerably less households with children under the age of 18. 
  • Minority enrollment in graduate programs has increased 69%--and we are seeing more first generation college and non-traditional students in school than ever before. 

Consider also that the economy has taken a tremendous toll over the last few years: 

  • California alone has cut $587 million in funding for mental health care over the last two years. 
  • As a result it is estimated that the state will lose $1.8 billion in federal Medicaid Match funding in fiscal year 2012. 
  • Decreased availability of community and hospital based mental health care, housing and psychiatric medicine add to the pressure and strain on resources of community hospitals, correctional institutions, and homeless shelters 

What does this mean for you—and for our profession? I suggest that it is a tremendous opportunity—and one that you are uniquely qualified to meet as not only representatives of the diversity that is America, but as psychologists  and counselors who have a deep understanding of and commitment to making this world a better place—for all of us. 

The APA’s 2009 Presidential Task Force on the Future of Psychology Practice cited economic challenges, changing demographics, and increasing global awareness, among others, as key drivers of change currently impacting the profession. 

In an increasingly interconnected world of limited resources, culturally sensitive practitioners will be critical to effectively managing the needs of a changing population. As a result of your experience here, most of you are well on your way to developing true multicultural competency. Whether you have focused on Latino Mental Health or international psychology, worked with any number of our Centers or on practicum engaging a diverse community, taken one of our international trips, or provided community service, you are cultivating that aspect of your skill and expertise every day. I urge you to do more, to seek out those experiences that will develop your cultural awareness. Because tomorrow is today . . . enhancing your capability of serving our diverse population will serve our community, and your career. 

The economic challenges we face also call on us to find creative solutions to serve our communities and advance our own well-being. Budget cuts at many of the social service agencies with whom we work eliminated and reduced access to mental health services for those in need, at the same time reducing the number of sites with psychologists who could supervise our students on practicum. So we devised a solution to fill the gap in both services to the community and supervision for our students, by enlisting our faculty members to provide supervision to approximately 116 students at 19 community mental health agencies. 

I hope that when you leave here today you will take with you the ongoing commitment to serve as well as the spirit of innovation—because that combination can take you to places you might never have thought possible. 

Psychology as a profession continues to grow—Department of Labor statistics suggest at a rate of 12% job growth by 2018. We can impact that rate by being students of the future as well as the present. Our competencies and expertise can bring tremendous value beyond the traditional settings of service agencies, private practice and even academia. We can be core members of every primary care team; we can consult in business, politics and law; and we can lead multi-disciplinary teams tackling global problems of war, disaster, and environmental change. Our options are as diverse as we are, and our time—your time-- is now.