Graduation Speech: Mitchel Miltch, LCSW
Thank you so much for being here with me tonight. I congratulate my fellow graduates Marilyn and Veronica, each of whom Iíve had the pleasure to share learning experiences with.
Thanks to our director, Seth Warren, Cathy Van Voorhees, and all of our faculty and candidates who staff our committees, teach, supervise, attend classes, and nurture a sense of community via our listserv and professional meetings. You are the organic glue that animates and holds together our vibrant learning and treatment center.
Iíd like to pay special thanks to my final case committee of Ronnie Bearison, Marion Houghton, and Lois McLean, for creating an optimal environment for me to demonstrate my integration of theory and technique. I am grateful to Nina Williams for teaching me how to write an FCP, and for the creation of learning modules that helped me connect the dots and draw a time release picture of my controlís evolving personality. I thank Eric Sherman, my advisor for signing off that I met my program requirements making me eligible to embark on the last leg of this marathon. Thanks to Natalie Brown for coordinating the formation of my final committee, and to Susan Masluk and her team for putting together a venue worthy of staging tonightís celebration.
Iíve made a sublte change to a brilliant lyric written by Neil Flynn and performed by The New Zealand band, Crowded House, to capture the emotional tenor of this moment: ďHow do I capture a deluge of joy and gratitude in a paper cup.Ē Tonight I cross off a most important line item on my bucket list. After being notified I would graduate, I felt wrecked by success for about 10 days. Then, I climbed above some very familiar clouds of confusion and self-doubt and had an epiphany of sorts. I saw with heart felt clarity that if this seminal event didnít magically heal my childhood traumas, nothing would. Iíve since ceased to regard these timeless wounds as damning and disheartening disabilities. Iím adopting a new, no holds barred approach to building a rich and meaningful legacy for myself and my family. I have a great wife, two thriving daughters Iím very proud of, my health, and now a psychoanalytic certification. As I see it, from here on in, Iím playing this game of life with house money.
I raise my glass to toast the map makers, trail guides, boosters, traveling companions , and wilderness clearers, among you who made this trek that spanned eighteen years, one hundred and sixty one days, possible. Thatís exactly the number of days it took my daughter Jocelyn the day she was born on October 4, 1993, to grow into the fine young woman seated here tonight. Some twelve hours later on that auspicious day I entered my first IPPNJ class taught by Dr. Joe Braun, who I am thrilled is in attendance tonight.
I divide my life into two eras. The first Iíll call BP(Before Psychoanalysis), and the second era, Iíll call AP(After Psychoanalysis). BP, I was a nowhere man going nowhere very fast. To give you some idea of what I mean, when I started treatment in 1981, my idea of dignifying a childhood devoted to schlepping around what my parents disavowed but couldnít completely disown, was to capitalize on this apprenticeship and turn professional. You might be scratching your head in befuddlement, professional, you ask? Yes. I signed on without a signing bonus and joined the ranks of bellmen at The Grand Hyatt New York. I can say with great pride that on my watch not one item of dirty laundry ever jettisoned its containers. Iíve come a very long way since my days at The Grand Hyatt New York.
The little things in life can tender dramatic impacts on human beings. I will share such moments the authors of which, may have never given a second thought to. Still, these moments of reckoning were irrefutably priceless in rehabilitating my trust in a universe to provide for me, and ultimately, for me to learn go with the flow, and get beyond giving up on myself. I have anxiously shot myself in the foot enough times over the past few decades to try and qualify for The Special Olympics in a distance event, once a strong suit of mine. Yet, somehow, some way, I made enough deposits in emotional capital that well disguised angels appeared at every crossroad of my journey, and guaranteed my safe passage as I limped along. Tonight I hand out your ceremonial wings.
Dr. Joe Braun, you have taught me much about being a man, how to be with patients, and how to play with them in a virtual sandbox of trial experimentations. Your commitment to my development has filled my heart with passion to serve others. Ironically, what I remember most is you stepping out of your role as supervisor. In a moment of inspired intuition, you shook me from my dazed and dejected lethargy, and moved me beyond the perimeter of what was at the time the charred and suffocating remains of a life that had burned to the ground. That was a true moment of awakening. Thank you for being a stellar mentor and a valued friend.
Dr. Monica Carsky is a well respected analyst, researcher and teacher. I thank her for appreciating my fragile balancing act as a first time father, and a first time social worker back in early 1994. She went beyond the call of duty and engaged me where I was at; frightened and overwhelmed by the challenges that lay ahead for me. I arrived one day at her home office for supervision carrying infant Jocelyn in her car seat. Dr. Carsky offered her opare to watch Jocelyn so we could focus on the cases at hand. The message I heard was: ďI will help you modulate your stress level because you are worth my investment in time to help you grow.Ē Thank you for taking me seriously long before I did so myself.
Cheryl Nifoussi is a former IPPNJ Bergen coordinator in the 1990ís, and a later supervisor of mine. Thank you for hosting brunches in your lovely home in Oradell in the 1990ís. On the strength of your radiant warmth, and relaxed, open and friendly manner, you integrated new candidates like myself into IPPNJ, and offered me a sense of belonging within a family culture I was proud to identify with.
I grew up in a very depressing home. When Ali fought Frazier in The Thriller in Manilla he called it ďthe closest to hell he had ever come.Ē Thatís a fair characterization for my childhood. My teachers were my life lines. They were the equivalent of the pediatric ICU nurses and doctors who tenderly, and conscientiously keep premature babies alive until they can thrive on their own. Your collective appreciation of my contributions in class incubated visions for myself I could not keep alive on my own for many years. Iím speaking about the likes of Joan Morgan, Seth Warren, Charlotte Schwartz, Rose Oosting, Eric Sherman, Ronnie Bearison, and Shawn Sobkowski. Your kind evaluations brought me to tears and invigorated me with hope that one day, this day would arrive.
As I indicated, angels have appeared when I needed them the most. To quote Ellie Greenwich, the leader of the pack was no other than Ronnie Bearison. If you havenít taken a class with Ronnie, been analyzed, supervised, or visited her office where no ever leaves hungry, put it on your bucket lists. How could any one human being be so fortunate as I was to have Ronnie Bearison chair not one committee, but two. Thatís like winning the lottery twice in one lifetime. Each time my eyes tracked most indescribably warm smile that greeted me. Every cell in my body instantly breathed a sigh of relief. I knew Iíd be fine, and the script was so written.
There was a dearth of home grown IPPNJ male analysts prior to the merger. I have to go back to 2001 when Jeff Savlov graduated to recall a CPPNJ male analyst who was in training at some point during the early years of my candidacy. I mean someone not acquired through trades, transfers or free agency. So this fact begs the question how do I understand why so many female candidates have been so gracious to me. Might it have been nothing more than a biologically driven, affiliative hormonal response? Who knows? Nonetheless, so many of you have been so kind, encouraging, and inclusive of me, class after class. Many of you have marked out a navigable path to success for me to follow in your footsteps. All have enriched my educational experiences. Iím thinking of recent graduates like Mary Lantz, Debi Roelke, and Maureen Kritzer-Lange, and candidates like Ellie Krumholtz, Lauren Meyer, Barbara Davis, Alexandra Granville, Nell Jackson, and my one male classmate, Andy Roth.
Iíd like to offer a special thanks to Janet Hoffer for helping me normalize and get a handle on the process of writing an FCP, and last but not least, Karen Glick, who over the past few years has befriended me by sharing so much of herself so as to leave me feeling we were in this together.
Nixon had Halderman, Clinton had McLarty, and Obama had Emanuel, as their trusted advsiors. Mine was Michelle Bauer. Many of you know Michelle Bauer as an esteemed member of the faculty. I met Michelle as a young candidate pregnant with the promise of a successful career, and pregnant with the promise of a recently conceived son, Jacob some 17 short years ago. Every time I was faced with a sensitive choice point Michelle was there to offer me her caring counsel. Thank you for being there for me when I needed you the most.
Everybody Loves Raymond, and everybody loves Mana Levine. No one has a bad word to say about her. Thatís pretty weird, donít you think? If I wrack my brain to dig for dirt all I can come up with is that sheís less anal about time than myself. Thatís it. Mana is one of the most humble, emotionally intelligent, honest, grounded, sensible and caring people Iíve ever met. If you look up mensch in the dictionary, youíll find a likeness of Mana Levine. As my supervisor during the creation of my FCP she has been a phenomenal coach. Mana helped me stave off paralysis by analysis, simplifying the relational dance for me. Like a great pitching coach Mana helped me find the lowest common denominators, a few simple cues to anchor me in the present, and work within myself. I quickly learned that Mana was one of those people you would want in a foxhole with you if you were fighting for your life. Thank you for keeping my candidacy alive.
Orlando Pizzolato, the winner of the 1984 New York City Marathon, and Dr. Martha Liebmann, my analyst for a decade would be strange bedfellows even if Martha spoke fluent Italian. Yet, they will forever be linked for me as important characters in my unfolding narrative. Pizzolato epitomized what Dr. Liebmann patiently waited for me to understand. There I stood at the 23.5 mile mark in Central Park during The 1984 NYC marathon witnessing an unprecedented event in the history of this great spectacle. A cloak of invincibility was the Achilles Heel for more than one of these elite runners who fell prey to scorching conditions and wilted like dehydrated plants under the summer sun. There was Pizzolato running from behind, picking off one heat debilitated runner after another and surging to the lead. By the time Pizzolato crossed paths with me, he ran alone and unchallenged. Lo and behold almost as if on cue and right in front of me, he succumbed to stomach cramps. He doubled over in pain, dejected as if his moment of greatness was slipping helplessly from his grasp. Suprisingly, he righted himself, and then snuck an apprehensive peak behind him. To his shock and amazement his rivals were nowhere in sight. Pizzalato bravely forged on for a few hundred yards only to succumb to another cramp. He repeated the same routine except this time there was a glint of hopefulness in his eye after realizing his competition was still nowhere in sight. Perhaps, it dawned on him that if he could somehow hold it together and keep moving, he might limp his way to victory. He did. He won in the slowest time on record, his way.
I was Dr. Liebmannís, Orlando Pizzolato, running from way back in the pack, and gaining ground with each successive year. Martha never stopped believing in me, no matter how many times I doubled over in pain, dropped to my knees, and wanted to give up. She patiently pointed out every agonizing inch of progress, normalized my struggles, and taught me not to panic when I fell into a disintegrated state. Most importantly, Martha taught me to get beyond quitting on myself. To describe the saint-like patience and tolerance Dr. Liebmann exhibited with me me one would have to imagine sitting and waiting for a snail to crawl from the ocean side of Texas to the gulf side of Texas over more than a decade of hurricane seasons. I would say to Martha, ďI canít do this,Ē and Martha Martha would reply, ďnot yet.Ē Lo and behold one day I peered down what had been a very dark and forbidding tunnel, and found so much light at the end of it I had to reach for my sunglasses. I have been blessed by Marthaís presence in my life.
Thank you all for this moment.