During the 2020 Adler University Commencement Ceremony, held virtually on December 6, graduate Danielle Kokochak, M.A. ’20, shared a personal children’s story that has impacted her work as a socially just practitioner. A graduate of the Online campus Psychology (M.A.) program, Kokochak emphasized the importance of planting the seeds of Adlerian values for a more inclusive society.
Well, Class of 2020, we did it. In the midst of a global pandemic, we did it. In the midst of a social justice uprising, we did it. In the midst of one of the most historically important years on record, in the midst of the various levels of personal and collective upheaval we’ve each experienced this year, we still did it. We completed our graduate degrees! And not just any graduate degree, a graduate degree in the social sciences from Adler University, where values that encourage us to practice social responsibility and use what we know to create a more just, equitable, healthy, and connected human community are just as important as the academics. We are wonderfully positioned to do the work and healing that must be done to change the world we live in to one that will survive and – hopefully – thrive.
There’s a children’s story I loved when I was a kid called Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney that I think holds a simple but powerful lesson for right now. The story starts with Miss Rumphius as a little girl whose grandfather tells her: “You must do something to make the world more beautiful.” As she grows up, she has lots of experiences. She travels the world, becomes a librarian, and eventually settles down to retire in a little community by the sea. All the while, she has her grandfather’s words in her mind and wonders what she can do to make the world more beautiful, although some might argue she already had. I’m going to spoil the ending a bit, hope that’s ok: one autumn, Miss Rumphius walks around her town spreading the seeds of lupine flowers, tossing them to the ground by the walkways and letting water, wind, sunshine, and time do the rest. Come spring, pink and purple flowers bloomed everywhere, and residents of the town admired the beauty that Miss Rumphius had helped create.
She had done something simple, right where she was, and that made the world more beautiful. When I re-read this story as an adult, I found it really inspiring. I thought it was such a great reminder that making the world a better place to be can take many forms, ranging from something as uncomplicated as planting flowers to as complex as instigating systemic change with public policy or as compassionate as giving someone counsel and everything in between. Since then, I’ve let the lesson I learned from that story be a guiding principle in my own life: “You must do something to make the world more beautiful, and it can be anything, anywhere no matter how small it seems, because all of it counts.”
As we step into our work and lives with the knowledge and practice we’ve gained through our degree programs, I wanted to share this with all of you. Right now, the sheer amount of social, political, and structural change that needs to occur is overwhelmingly clear, as well as the injustice and division that threatens our progress. But if each of us commits to planting seeds with compassionate and responsible action, something good will grow. I like to think of the Adlerian values that guided and grounded our education as seeds: social interest, pluralism, excellence, pragmatism, and courage.
With social interest, a more interconnected and interdependent human community that recognizes the importance of working together can grow. With pluralism, respect and celebration of diversity and difference can grow. With excellence, we can grow with integrity. With pragmatism, real-world solutions that are evidence-based, outcome-oriented, and have measurable results can grow. And with courage, we can challenge the status quo and grow a revolution that’s rooted in innovation, creativity, holism, and inclusivity. We can plant these seeds in our homes, communities, and workplaces, and just like nature spreads the seeds of flowers – people can spread these seeds of change.
Our training as organizational psychologists, counselors, clinical psychologists, public administrators, and advocates has given us a very useful set of tools to cultivate that growth and change in the ways each of us chooses. In my time at Adler University as an Applied Psychology student, I met and worked with many people who are undeniably committed to leaving this world better than they found it, and it’s those encounters that make me confident in our ability to make a difference. The road ahead of us is long, there’s a lot of hard work to do along the way, but if we walk together and give to the cause what we can, tending to the seeds that we plant, I know we will get somewhere. Everything we do along the way, from how we care for ourselves to how we care for each other and the world we share, counts. It’s an honor to be among a graduating class of change-makers and see the many good seeds we’re planting. Congratulations, Class of 2020 – let’s get out there and make the world more beautiful.