The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

DSW Professional Alliance

Graduation Address by Daniel Button

Daniel Button’s Bio:

Dan is a clinician who began work as a mental health tech in 1976 and immediately realized caring for others would be his life’s work. He graduated from Kansas State University in 1978 with a BS in Psychology. Dan was a non-traditional student as evidenced by his entry into a University without walls program where he earned his MS in Experiential Education. Early in his career he worked in psychiatric inpatient settings with children and families. He opened an emergency shelter in Kansas, a reactive attachment unit in Montana, a child and adolescent psychiatric unit in Wyoming, and a sexual offender program in Arkansas. During the process of deinstitutionalizing mental health care, Dan returned to school and earned his MSW at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock in 1998. As you can see by his many moves, he has a bit of wanderlust. Following his move to Florida, he reluctantly entered the Hospice and Palliative Care world, but that turned out to be a fortuitous event. He has continued work as a clinician, administrator, and trainer and has been afforded the opportunity to open a number of hospice care centers. Dan’s pursuit of his DSW was in part triggered by a need to update his clinical knowledge as his career has spanned 40 years. Earning his Doctorate has been on his bucket list for many years, and his long-term goal is to teach, thus allowing him to continue in his pursuit of knowledge.

Daniel Button:Address to Class of 2016

It is an honor to have been nominated to speak on behalf of the 2016 DSW cohort, and for this privilege I thank my classmates. In light of the notification we received last week about the passing of John Bailey, I began to reflect on other losses we as students and faculty experienced during our journey over the past three years. I would like to begin with a moment of silence for those we have lost, but to also give thanks to the many that made our journey possible.

Socrates is quoted as saying: “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”

I would like to commend and thank Dr. Patterson and the faculty in the Department of Social Work for how the DSW program was constructed and the principled and disciplined approach to learning. Each professor fostered an environment that established reciprocal interactions as a best practice where we as students were enlisted as “co-creators” of the course.

By the way, it was clearly not an accident that the concept of “co-creators” was incorporated into the syllabus for every class. On behalf of the 2016 cohort, I would like to thank all of the professors for creating the type of learning environment that allowed us to practice and refine our critical thinking skills.

The DSW curriculum provided us with exposure to current research in neuroscience, psychopharmacology, and evidence-based practices, yet we also explored emerging interventions, epistemology, and organizational and systems issues just to name a few. Again, we want to say thank you.

During this journey, we were stretched and challenged to apply the material to our clinical practice, and then we were encouraged to supplement the learning process by sharing our reactions through the lens of our theoretical and experiential background. The concept of reciprocity and co-creation was intentional and from my perspective it was actualized throughout our studies. During the three years, the entire faculty provided a supportive presence, were always encouraging, and focused on helping us succeed by kindling the flame of learning.

Our cohort is a diverse group of gifted clinicians from across the country, and each of them does amazing work. My classmates work at the VA, in college settings, public schools, private practice, treatment centers, juvenile justice, and on death row. I am in awe of my colleagues, and I hope that they know that we were blessed by gifts each of them provided when they shared their personal and professional experiences.

One of Maya Angelou’s observations comes to mind when I think about what we learned from each other. Ms. Angelou said “We can learn to see each other and see ourselves in each other and recognize that human beings are more alike than we are unalike”. Although our cohort is a diverse group, we have many common and shared experiences.

I would like to make an observation that I believe my colleagues will agree with. One of the richest and most intimate experiences we had in this program was within the Discussion Board process. Through the Discussion Board forum, we had the opportunity to reflect on and share professional experiences. In many ways it was a supervision process on steroids. More importantly though, the Discussion Board is where we learned about each other on a personal level, and you could see the respect and admiration for each other grow during the three years. The relationships we developed with our colleagues I hope last a lifetime, I know the memories will.

In closing, I would like to cite the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn and his book “Mindfulness for Beginners” (Kabat-Zinn, J., 2012). The foundations of a mindfulness practice encourages us to be present in the moment, non-judgmental, maintain a beginner’s mind, and foster trust and acceptance. Developing these foundational skills is at the cornerstone of our clinical practice. Mindfulness skills are applicable in our interactions with colleagues, within our family, our work in organizations, and I believe that it would provide a breath of fresh air on both sides of the current political discourse. Exploring mindfulness practices on a personal level, and through the research is one of the most treasured gifts I will take away from this program, and for that I thank you!

My one wish for the UTK faculty, administration, and my colleagues and their families comes from my world of hospice and palliative care. In hospice we learned that we do not know how many breaths we have, but we have an opportunity to do our best to Make Every Breath Count. My wish for all of you is that you are able to “Make Every Breath Count!”?? Thank you!


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