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Media Advisory/Press Release

Former Secretary of Veterans’ Services, thanks graduates for their commitment at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology commencement

June 16, 2011–Boston (West Roxbury), MA–Veterans and those they love face very special challenges when trying to reclaim family life following deployment, according to former Secretary of Veterans Service Thomas Kelley, speaking at the commencement ceremonies for the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology on June 5, 2011.

Children ask, “Why is mom or dad suddenly so grumpy and impatient with us. Why does dad drink so much and just wants to be left alone? When you couple this with the stress of violent combat and frequent deployments, the challenges skyrocket,” he said.

“When servicemen and women come home, their world changes as does the world of those whom they love. No longer do they have the support system, which has sustained them for the past year or so, the regimented life, the sense of camaraderie, the teamwork which kept them going. Suddenly all these crutches are whisked away and you are reunited with loved ones you used to know but who have coped quite well without you over the months.

The kind of emotional challenges facing these returning veterans are what the graduating class of 2011 will face as they enter a field committed to caring for the mental health needs of this society, according to Kelley, who applauded the graduates for choosing psychology as their life’s work.

“And unlike physicians who mend bones or conduct surgery, for you there are no simple answers ….It takes such a special person to hear the cry for help and to act without being judgmental or overly critical,” he said.

Kelley, who retired earlier this year from the position he held for nearly a decade, has been a constant advocate for the rights of veterans, focusing much of his energy on securing the health and mental health benefits they need and deserve. Severely injured while saving men under his command in Vietnam, he received the national Medal of Honor for his unselfish acts of bravery.

His concern and respect for fellow veterans extended beyond his military career. After retiring from the Navy, he spent several years in the Department of Defense in Washington DC before returning to his native Massachusetts, where his fight for veterans’ welfare continued.

“In his years as Secretary of Veterans’ Services, Thomas Kelley has inspired all of us with his tireless dedication to our service men and women. We can learn a great deal as psychologists from the compassion and commitment of this extraordinary public servant,” said MSPP President, Dr. Nicholas Covino.

Kelley was also one of three recipients of the honorary Doctor of Letters degree from MSPP. Joining him were Mary Bonauto, Esq., and Dr. Alvin Poussaint, both champions of civil rights.

Bonauto is a lawyer who has directed the Civil Rights Project at the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) for more than 20 years. Her focus has been to improve the lives of those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, as well as people living with HIV or AIDS. In recent years, her work to eliminate discrimination has profoundly affected those for whom she advocates. Baker v. State of Vermont resulted in a ruling that prompted the Vermont legislature to enact the nation’s first “civil union” law for same-sex couples. In Massachusetts, she was the lead counsel in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, which resulted in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court declaring that prohibiting civil marriage for same-sex couples is unconstitutional.

Poussaint, the son of Haitian immigrants, is an expert on race relations in America and the dynamics of prejudice. He is the director of the Office of Recruitment and Multicultural Affairs at Harvard Medical School (HMS), a professor of Psychiatry and the Faculty Associate Dean for Student Affairs. According to his biography on the HMS website, “He believes that extreme (violent) racists suffer from a delusional mental illness.”

The author of the book Why Blacks Kill Blacks, he has also co-written Raising Black Children with James Comer in 1992; Lay My Burden Down with Amy Alexander in 2000; and Come On, People with Bill Cosby in 2007. A frequent lecturer on American college campuses, he also serves as a consultant to government and private agencies. The media often calls upon him to comment and consult on a wide range of social issues, including the impact of media images on children and the changing family.

At the end of his talk Kelley said, claiming to have no specific knowledge to impart, “But I do have one word of advice which may stand you well. Please do not neglect your own state of mind as you answer the calls for help you will hear from others. That voice you hear might be you begging for relief. Your work environment is not easy. You will be hearing the pleas of some very desperate folks and their problems may well have a deep impact on your life. Take care of yourselves and you will be far better prepared to care for others,” he said.

At this year’s commencement ceremonies, 132 students received degrees in Clinical Psychology (PsyD), Counseling Psychology (MA), Forensic Psychology (MA), School Psychology (MA/CAGS), Organizational Psychology (MA) and Executive Coaching Psychology (Certificate).

About MSPP—Founded in 1974, MSPP has created and offered a unique approach to doctoral training for psychologists focusing on the immediate integration of clinical experience with academic studies. The school’s mission is to bring benefits of psychological training to other areas of American society, including schools, the workplace and the courts.

Updated 6/16/11

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