Live a life of purpose; save money “because we need some more rich people”; and be kind.

Those suggestions would barely fill a napkin – yet as framed by Rosie Phillips Davis to graduates at TC’s second master’s degree convocation ceremony on Tuesday morning, they contained a world of nuance and challenge.

There are “so many big, real-world problems that are begging for your attention,” Davis, President of the American Psychological Association and Professor of Counseling Psychology at the University of Memphis, told graduates of TC’s master’s programs in the Departments of Biobehavioral Sciences, Counseling & Clinical Psychology, Education Policy & Social Analysis, and Health & Behavior Studies

Davis has focused her own career on bringing psychology in general and vocational psychology in particular to bear in understanding how issues of employment and economic means affect people’s lives. 

“We tend to blame poor people for their condition; we believe they just don’t work a lot,” said Davis, one of 10 children of former sharecroppers who moved to Memphis when she was a little girl. “On the other hand, we tend to believe that people who have a lot, earned it. Neither is exactly true.”

As APA President, Davis has launched on Initiative on Deep Poverty, which is using psychological science to change perceptions of deep poverty and address its structural causes.

The solutions are “multidimensional” and will require the joint efforts of professionals in health care, psychology, job creation and other fields, Davis said. “I am hoping that you will ask yourself if what you’re doing will make a difference to the poor people in the world,” she told graduates, adding, in an allusion to TC’s founder, that “the world does really need a lot of you to be rich. We need a few more Grace Dodges who use their money for good.” But, rich or poor, she said, paraphrasing the Dalai Lama, “be kind whenever possible; and it is always possible.”

TC President Thomas Bailey similarly encouraged graduates to think broadly about their role in solving myriad problems, posing the issue of global warming as both a literal and immediate threat to the planet and a symbol of much else that ails our era.

“As educators, caregivers, researchers and policy makers, shouldn’t we also think about ‘climate change’ even more broadly as a metaphor for creating a healthier climate for achieving progress on a whole range of issues and challenges?” Bailey asked. “Challenges ranging from stereotypes and biases that warp perceptions of reality and infect public discourse … to growing inequality, frustration, and thwarted goals in the world as well as in our own country.”

Damonta D. Morgan, who received a master’s degree in Education Policy, also raised the specter of “challenges that demand our big thinking, now.”

Morgan said that his mother still recalls how restless he was as a youngster, and how she often urged him to be still. With all due respect to her, Morgan said, he was urging the graduates to be “restless enough, in the face of the injustices we’ve been given, to act."

“We know that the best way to end generational poverty is by making education accessible to every generation,” he said.  "We know that there is a pipeline that systematically moves black and brown boys from the classroom to the criminal justice system with ease. Now it’s time to act. Now, because there are children and families in cages whose only mistake was to be born at the wrong intersection of longitude and latitude. And while we will always find reasons to wait, we need to ask ourselves, who, but us, should act?”

In a moving interlude, Jacquelyn Briggs, a 2019 graduate of TC’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing program in the Department of Health & Behavioral Sciences, sang “Time to Find Home,” by Jay Alan Zimmerman. Briggs, a talented vocalist who relearned how to sing after an automobile accident in high school left her deaf in one ear, was accompanied by John Tarbet, a master’s degree candidate in Music Pedagogy.