Last month in Bozeman, I took a lunch break from a 6.5 hour suicide assessment and treatment workshop for professionals, walked out of the #IwontcallitGianforte Auditorium on the campus of Montana State University where #Idonotteach, up two flights of stairs, where I met Liz Plank and the amazing video recording and production team for the Vox news show Consider It.
Despite being in the middle of a wardrobe malfunction, I was fascinatingly anxiety-free. After talking about suicide for three hours nothing else really matters much.
Liz Plank is a big deal and a fantastic dresser. All that fits fabulously with her being a fourth wave feminist and 2018 Webby award winner. I was super happy to meet her then, and now, after having met her and done a couple Tick-Tock stunts with her (watch this 9 seconds: https://www.tiktok.com/share/video/6692077388945165573?langCountry=en), I’m still super happy to have met her.
Andy Warhol said we get 15 minutes of fame and Marilyn Manson sang about 15 minutes of shame. What I got in the final Consider It episode was somewhere around 42 seconds of a mix of the two (I’m estimating here because I haven’t timed it). But here’s the good news . . . and there’s lots of good news.
The Consider It episode is now available for public viewing and it’s EXCELLENT. The title: What’s Behind Montana’s Suicide Epidemic? Obviously an incredibly important topic and other than my 42 seconds of fame/shame, very thoughtfully and artfully done (first person to post a comment that accurately identifies my exact wardrobe malfunction on the Consider It site will get a free JSF book of your choice). Yes, you can watch the best ever Consider It episode right here: https://www.facebook.com/consideritshow/videos/1395971993875811/
Last Wednesday I received an award on Charter Day at the University of Montana. Getting the award was a big deal and I am humbled and happy. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be at the Charter Day event because I was presenting workshops at the National Association for School Psychologists in Atlanta. Below, is a slightly extended version of the acceptance speech that I video-recorded for the event. I’m fairly certain that the following version is more coherent than the video. What surprised me most about the whole thing (and made me feel silly) is that when I rehearsed this acceptance speech, I couldn’t make it through without crying.
It’s an honor and a privilege to receive the George Dennison Presidential award for distinguished accomplishment at the University of Montana. A big thanks to Roni Johnson my department chair and Adrea Lawrence, dean of the college of education and human sciences, for their nomination.
Back in August, at the State of the University address here at the University of Montana, the theme was about how the college experience transforms lives. To give you a sense of how honored I feel about this award, I want to briefly share with you how my college and graduate school experiences have transformed my life.
I grew up knowing virtually nothing about college, except that it was where you went to play college sports . . . and that was all I wanted to do. After high school, I attended Mount Hood community college in Gresham, Oregon, to play football and baseball. At that point, the only work I had done was manual labor. I had no identity linked to being intellectually capable.
I was a mediocre college student who initially cut corners, fell asleep in class, and was terrified about speaking up in groups. Oddly, my Linebacker coach (who doubled as a ceramics and jewelry making instructor) at Mount Hood was probably the first person who helped me realize I was smart. Very quickly after meeting me he started referring to me as “the rocket scientist.” Seriously, this was the first time in my life that I thought I could do something with my brain, other than slam it into other people.
And then I went on to Oregon State University, to, of course, play football. By then I had begun feeling more comfortable in college; I was building my academic identity. The most important thing is that I had learned how to learn. I remember bragging to my best friend and roommate who was taking a large undergraduate nutrition class with me: “I’ve studied this and I know everything that could possibly be on the exam.” I told him I would be getting a perfect score on the upcoming midterm. I can still feel the experience of the professor personally handing me my paper (in a class of about 75) and whispering, “I never thought anyone would get this score.” This was all new to me. Before, all my peak experiences had to do with sports. After taking human nutrition at Oregon State University, I suddenly had a peak experiential memory related to academics.
Although I had grown more confident about my intellectual ability, I was still very uncomfortable in lecture-type classroom settings. In 4 ½ years of college I only spoke up once during a lecture class, and when I did, the professor shamed me. I felt shy, nervous, and unable to translate thoughts I had in my brain into words and sentences in front of groups. Fortunately, in my small pre-practicum and practicum classes, I had a Native American psychology professor who was amazing, encouraging, and who helped me believe in my counseling skills and abilities.
After getting my undergraduate degree at Oregon State and working a year at a psychiatric hospital, I chose the University of Montana over several other institutions, including the University of Virginia. And then, when I stepped onto campus in the fall of 1981, I found myself. I also found best friends, my wife, and in less than a year had my first publication in a shabby little journal called the New England Journal of Medicine. In a turn of events that I cannot explain, I also found my voice. My anxiety about public speaking went away. In the fall of 1982 I asked to teach Introductory Psychology; I told stories, I made jokes, I danced, and sang in my classes, and I loved it. I found my career home.
Now here I am getting an award named after former UM President George Dennison. Thank you George.
Earlier in my life I had no idea these sorts of awards existed; I never would have imagined being in the running. I never would’ve imagined being able to hang out with cool and smart people like Roni Johnson and Adrea Lawrence. I never would have imagined looking out and seeing the faces of faculty, staff, and administrators here at UM and getting to say that somehow I’ve found myself in this club, in this community, and in this Academy. Before I got here I didn’t even know academies existed. Now, I get to think of you all as friends and colleagues. This is what a college education did for me. I have loved my graduate student and faculty experiences at the University of Montana. I am grateful far beyond what I can express.
I know the words “Thank you” seem very small. I hope you know that I mean them in a very big way.
This year, like all other years in the history of planet Earth, no one asked me to do a college or university commencement speech. I thought I had a shot at the University of Montana, but they settled on a Nike executive instead.
I puzzled over my lack of commencement speech invites, but only briefly. After all, at my most recent keynote (the Montana School Counseling Association), I spontaneously told my “Just Shut Up” story. It just so happens that my “Just Shut Up” story references a body part that typically isn’t mentioned in keynote speeches.
In my own defense, the “Just Shut Up” story is about adolescent development, and, because the entire experience of adolescent development is inappropriate, it’s impossible to say anything inappropriate when talking about adolescent development. This is so obvious that if you saw a Jeopardy answer saying, “A topic about which it’s impossible to say anything inappropriate” the correct question would, of course, be, “What is adolescent development?” I think I’m on solid ground here.
My point is that I’ve come to accept not getting asked to do commencement speeches. After all, they’re rigorous speaking gigs where you have to be ready to offer sage and complex advice like, “Be yourself” and “Don’t forget to give back.” That sort of sage advice might be somewhat outside my wheelhouse.
But then, the week before last Saturday’s University of Montana commencement, I found out that our graduating M.A. students in Counselor Education had requested a microphone for their post-commencement reception. I didn’t realize it immediately, but upon embarking on my one-mile walk to line up for the commencement ceremony, it hit me. My students were sending me a special indirect message. The microphone was for me. Knowing my penchant for speech-giving, they leaked the microphone intel, so I’d have time to prepare a fancy commencement speech, just for them.
When it comes to graduation speeches, preparation is key, so I spent the 15 minutes of my walk in a state of profound inspiration. I prepared a formal opening and closing, and then wrote two special graduation songs, practicing them along the way. The passerby seemed appreciative, even though they probably couldn’t understand why I was singing “Move your eyes” to the tune of “Shake it Off” or what inspired me to include the main refrain of “A date with Sigmund Freud” instead of “A partridge in a pear tree” when singing “The Twelve Weeks of Theories.”
Being uncertain as to whether I should focus exclusively on songs, I outlined an additional speech. This extra speech was all about the Gestalt of be-here-now and self-awareness, as I integrated the rising (and flooding) spring waters of the Clark Fork River as a metaphor for how over-activity contributes to the opaqueness of the self. To be sure that my commencement message would get through, I also included warnings about Narcissus and his fatal projection of the self. That’s the sort of mythical anecdote that can bring down the house.
Sadly, that afternoon, I discovered that the leaking of the microphone rental was nothing more than the flirtation of a ruse. During the WHOLE Counselor Education reception, the students completely hogged the microphone. All they did was go On and On and On and On (like Jack Johnson) saying nice things about each other and the faculty and the doc students, not leaving me a minute with the mic to get up there with my Poker Face (like Lady Gaga) to perform my freshly written songs.
In the end, truth be told, the Nike guy was pretty darn good, and likely a better choice than me. But, more importantly, our students were like they usually are . . . AWESOME. These graduates will be heading out to schools, mental health agencies, and intercultural destinations, where they’ll connect with and counsel youth and adults and make the world a healthier place.
Other than my amazing vocal performance, there’s one thing I wish I’d had a chance to say. It might have been something like this:
Take a moment to look around the room. See your classmates, your supportive families, and your faculty. Don’t just see them, SEE them as the multi-layered and profound beings that they are. In this irretrievable sparkling moment of the now, let’s remember a few things together. Remember your decision. You walked in this building to become a counselor. You dedicated yourself to learning how to help others. How cool is that? Feel the power of that memory. Remember our first times together. Remember when your professors kept having you awkwardly introduce yourselves to your new classmates. Feel that awkwardness and anxiety. Let it be with you, remembering that you OWN your future awkwardness and anxiety, because you worked through it, conquering it for now and later. Remember the painful viewing of video recordings of yourself doing counseling. Remember the painful feedback. Remember the tears and joys you experienced together. Remember getting to know the people in this room in ways you never could have imagined, until it happened. Remember growing in respect for yourself, growing your counseling skills, and deepening your respect for your classmates. Remember the late nights, the early mornings, the six straight hours of class, and that assignment (or two) that you pretty much hated. And most of all, remember this moment, right now, surrounded by friends and family. Remember the joy of right now. Remember why you chose this path and why you’re here today. Remember it all, and put it in your heart. Then, in the future, which might be now and might be later, commit yourself to combine your counseling skills, your empathic heart, and your thirst for continued learning. Let the joy of now flow back to the memories of then and the future of what will be. Recognize your new power; it’s like the Force; it’s in your hands, it’s in your heart, it’s in your brain. You take it from here, remembering also, that we are honored to have had time with you and to send you out to shape a healthier and happier society.
Oh. Yeah. I almost forgot. Remember this too, and be grateful: Never again will you have to date Sigmund Freud.
Who wouldn’t want to work in beautiful Missoula, Montana along with fantastic colleagues? On most days, you can hike up Mount Sentinel and get this view (it’s better live) in less than 20 minutes.
I’m using my blog to help spread the news that we’re looking for a full-time, visiting assistant professor in our department at the University of Montana. Why visiting? That’s because we just got permission to search and thought it would be easier to hire a nine-month visiting (mid-August to mid-May) and then we’ll be searching for a tenure-track person in early fall. Of course, it’s possible that the visiting person will apply for an get the tenure-track position, but not necessarily. To check out the details of the position, please click here: http://bit.ly/umt1915.
FYI, the University of Montana (which happens to be the coolest place on the planet right now) is an ADA/EOE/AA/Veteran’s Preference Employer.
When Sara and I visited Ariel Goodman’s Intimate and Family Relationship class (COUN 242) at the University of Montana, we were instantly surprised.
First surprise? It was the first question: “What was the hardest thing you ever experienced as a parent?”
Second surprise? The second question: “What’s the hardest struggle that parents face today?”
The students made their interests clear from the start. They were curious about the biggest and most difficult parenting challenges. They wanted to know the worst, first.
This wasn’t exactly what we expected from the so-called snowflake generation. These “snowflake” students wanted to know what they needed to know to get themselves prepared. For me, that didn’t quite fit the stereotype.
Sara and I both answered their questions as best we could. If you listen to the podcast episode, you’ll likely catch our themes.
This is a link to a hot off the presses article in Counseling Today. The focus is all about how professional counselors (and all psychotherapists) can be BOTH evidence-based AND relationally oriented. My co-author, Kindle Lewis, is one of our fantastic doctoral students in the Department of Counselor Education at the University of Montana. And . . . by the way. . . the University of Montana is NOW the NEW best college destination on the planet. Ask me why:).
This is the transcript of the 2015 Graduation Speech for Counselor Education I didn’t give. I should note, I wasn’t really invited to deliver a speech, but since I’m in Absarokee and can’t attend graduation, I’m pretending this is the speech I would have given. In other words, I’m making all this up.
Graduation speeches are supposed to be lightly profound with a substantial dose of inspiration. Well . . . this one, not so much.
Seriously? Like you didn’t know this speech would be different?
After all, two years ago (or maybe three or four years ago for some of you who are extra special), you all enrolled in a graduate program in . . . COUNSELING. Basically, what I’m saying is that something in your rational brain snapped and you let an empathic, compassionate, impulse to help others for the rest of your life take over and start making your BIG life decisions for you. You know you did. And your family and friends know you did. I’m just naming the elephant in the room by saying it in public
I’m proud to say that I’m proud of you for that. And this is coming from someone who basically hates and avoids the word proud. That’s partly because pride is one of the seven deadly sins and it goeth before a fall and all that. I just thought you should know how hard it was for me to say that I’m proud of you . . . which makes me think in my head that I almost feel a little proud of myself, which I would never, of course, say out loud, which I’m not doing now because if there’s anything I certain of, I’m certain that you can’t hear my thoughts.
But what I am saying is that I’m glad you made the decision to forsake nearly all of the materialistic messages given to you, heretofore (I really like saying things like heretofore, especially during graduation speeches), by contemporary society. Just think, if everyone went down the evil road of materialism we wouldn’t even have graduate programs in counseling where people like you spend good money to learn how to listen well and help others, while not making very much bank. You know what I’m talking about.
My point is, you’re just DIFFERENT and unless your faculty forgot to tell you, you should know that by now. And my other point is: that’s why you should have known this would be YET ANOTHER LECTURE and not some sappy, emotionally inspiring speech. And the reason for this is that in the business you’ve chosen to practice . . . learning NEVER ENDS . . . and so I don’t want to give any of you the wrong impression that somehow graduating means you get to stop learning. You don’t. I’m here to tell you that.
This leads me to my lecture, the title of which is something like:
Everything I Should Have Taught You Over the Past Several Years,
But Because You All Talked Way Too Much In Class I Didn’t Have Time.
And I should mention that this lecture could take anywhere from a few minutes to several days. Please. There’s no need to thank me. You’ve earned this.
Let’s start with you taking notice of the imprecision I used in stating my lecture title. I said, “. . . something like.” This is our first and most important lesson for the day. When it comes to counseling humans, we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking we can be precise. This is why you chose to study with us touchy-feely-counseling types over here in the College of Education instead of running over with your calculators to psychology where you could be a scientist (at this point in the speech I’m making an enigmatic face that makes you wonder if I’m praising psychology as a science or making fun of psychology for just having lots of irrational cognitions about being a science). This is why you set collaborative goals in counseling and not unilateral goals.
As Salvadore Minuchin said a couple of decades ago at a workshop here in Missoula, “Don’t be too sure.” I like that message.
And now although I’m not too sure about whether what I’ve got planned next is a good idea, it’s something I feel compelled to teach you. After all, prior to this last year’s holiday party, when there was an opportunity for Karaoke and, in the humble way that you’ve come to know as characteristic of me, I sent you all an email explaining that I had co-invented Karaoke in 1973 in Mike Bevill’s basement and consequently was happy to provide everyone with Karaoke lessons, the response was COMPLETE EMAIL SILENCE. Consequently, how could I not conclude that either you (a) have debilitating Karaoke anxiety, or (b) have low Karaoke-esteem, or (c) are uninformed as to the benefits of Karaoke, or (d) all of the above, or (e) only a and b?
Hopefully you got the answer to that rhetorical question correct, because here comes the Karaoke lesson.
Of course, before I start, as I like to say in my classes and workshops, you can always pass on this experience and if you so choose, please do so by doing what many of my teenage clients do – ignoring me – which may or may not involve you placing your hands over your ears and humming or laying your head on your arm and snoring.
The first rule of Karaoke is, as the late Bill Glasser would have said—had he ever had the good sense to lecture on Karaoke—“Your goal should be within your personal control.”
This rule has several implications, but most importantly, it speaks to song and wardrobe selection. Specifically, you always want to select a Karaoke song that’s within your range and within your wardrobe. I cannot emphasize this enough. For example, although I very much like the song . . . “This Girl is on Fire” I tried singing it and it didn’t go well.
As you can infer from the photo below, choosing the wrong song can be embarrassing and beyond your control. Don’t do it . . . unless it’s part of your shame- attacking treatment plan.
So, obviously, pick a song that fits your voice and your gender stereotypes.
The second rule is all about song lyrics and so I’ve made up another rhyme to help you auditory learners remember. That is, “To function to the best of your ability, you should embrace your multicultural humility.”
What I’m saying here is that, as you know, many pop songs have lyrics that are racist, sexist, and sexually explicit. To maintain our multicultural sensitivity (and humility), it’s important to either (a) avoid songs with insensitive or sexualized lyrics (which is why I never sing Lady Gaga’s song that includes the line about her not bluffin’ with her muffin) or (b) change the lyrics on the spot (for “Say a Little Prayer for You” I like to substitute, “Do a little non-denominational mindfulness meditation for you.” It works fine, you just have to say the words very quickly) or (c) just mumble when the offending lyrics appear.
The third rule can also be captured with a nifty, easily memorized rhyme: “An alcoholic drink, will not help you think.” It also won’t improve your judgment or make you look more impressive to your audience. I hope what I’m saying here is clear. Just like when you’re providing professional counseling, when doing Karaoke, it’s best to be squeaky clean and sober. I should add, contrary to popular belief, drinking alcohol will NOT MAKE YOU A BETTER DANCER. Although the caveat to this is that if OTHERS are drinking alcohol during your performance, it might make them THINK you’re a better dancer.
The corollary to this rule is that evidence-based Karaoke-ers use dancing to optimize their performance. This probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, “Be solution-focused and go with your strengths!” If your voice is bad or the lyrics are bad or you’re so nervous you’ve lost your ability to read, DANCE BIG. I did this a few years ago when I planned a rap to the Simon and Garfunkle tune “Feeling Groovy” and it quickly became obvious that the audience mostly wanted to watch my radical rapping dance moves and so I just went with that. The fact that no one at that party will talk to me anymore is irrelevant. I think it’s mostly because I intimidated the heck out of them and so they’re afraid to approach me now. I should note that this is a particular cognition that my counselor and I decided I shouldn’t test . . . so I’m just going with it. Here’s a photo of that performance. Apparently all the video recordings were lost or burned.
The fourth and final Karaoke rule is this: “A pill is not a skill . . . but Karaoke is a thrill.” What this means is that if you want to grow up to be a bad-ass Karaoke singer like me, then you have to practice, practice, and then practice some more . . . because as they say about counseling and counselors, all we ever do is practice.
There is no final performance.
There is no end to your learning.
And this is not my final goodbye to you.
I will be thinking of you all and wishing and hoping you the best success in whatever you choose to practice, knowing that I’ve had the excellent fortune and gift of time with you and that I’ve come to believe deeply in your ability, skill, compassion, and character.
One time when I was working with a dad and his son in counseling, the dad got right in his son’s face and delivered him a message that he would never forget. And so I want to end by sharing that message with you in hopes that you will hear it over-and-over in your brain:
“I will always be proud of you.”
Thanks for listening. Thanks for reading. Thanks for watching.
And thanks for being different.
P.S. I’m available for Karaoke tutoring and supervision and I can show you some hand movements, that, in particular, will blow your mind and insure an unforgettable Karaoke experience.
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