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Beyond the Education: Paying It Forward

When I agreed to write about why I volunteer at MSP, I didn’t think that it would be this hard to do, but, I’m really finding it difficult to put my feelings into words so that I can explain why.

If I had to start somewhere, it would be with one of my favorite quotes, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others” (Mahatma Gandhi, 1869). With that being said, it’s been four years since I first walked through the doors here at MSP. At that time, there were a lot of changes going on in my life and I almost didn’t follow through with my application to the Master’s Program.

I had no idea who “I” was because I’d been too busy being what everyone else in my life had needed. MSP is giving me more than an education; it is giving me my voice, and how do you pay back that kind of gift? I pay it back the only way that I know how… by paying it forward.

It was during that first year that everything that could go wrong – went wrong. I thought that maybe karma was telling me not to go through with applying for the doctoral program. But I had an amazing cohort who stood by me and gave me the moral support that I needed when I had no one else’s support. What I gained from my cohort is a sense of belonging and an understanding of what friendship truly is. They listen for the truth behind the words of “I’m fine.”

Although throughout the doctoral program, the cohort lost a couple people, it also gained a couple people. I am extremely proud of my cohort and I consider each of them my friend in their own special way. This feeling that I get from such a cohesive group… I want others to experience it. Sometimes I think that people don’t realize that a smile or simply a kind word, can totally change a person’s perspective in that moment. It’s easy to bring people down, to steal whatever happiness they’ve forged out for themselves, misery loves company and all that.

It’s a lot harder to give them hope, to motivate them to pursue their passions, to “be the change you wish to see in the world.” At a time when most peers in a doctoral program would be vying for the title of the best and the brightest, my cohort pushes each other to succeed, often going way out of their way to do so. It’s the qualities I see in my cohort that I strive to have for myself.

So when I’m given an opportunity to volunteer at an event, like an open house, if I can convince just one prospective student to apply here, then I am paying my gifts forward. I’m giving them an opportunity to have what I have, beyond an education: a voice, a friendly ear, friendship that knows no bounds, and above all, the strength to push past your comfort zone and test the limits of who you can become.

I often wonder if people remember how painfully shy I was when I started this program or how I would be afraid to participate in class. The number of professors who would comment “I would like to see her speak up more in class,” consisted of pretty much the entire faculty. One professor in particular, has continuously nudged me out of my comfort zone, and though they might regret that now (jokingly of course), I don’t.

I’m glad I was given a chance, over and over, to learn how to speak up. I try to volunteer for everything that I can. The benefit may not be as apparent to some, but I don’t just volunteer for the school, or for the professors that I’ve grown fond of, or for the cohort that I cherish, I do it for me; and on that note I’ll sum it up with another of my favorite quotes, “Use your voice for kindness, your ears for compassion, your hands for charity, your mind for truth, and your heart for love” (Unknown Author, n.d.).

Deb HamiltonDebra Hamilton, PsyS, TLLP is currently a third year PsyD student at MSP.