On Thursday May 12, Seattle University hosted the annual Scholarship Appreciation Luncheon to honor the people who generously contribute to supporting students’ education at SU. The event offers donors the opportunity to engage with students they support over lunch and affirms and deepens their commitment to assisting Seattle University students. Each year, two students (one undergraduate and one graduate) are chosen as the featured speakers for the event. The students share their personal story about their experience at SU, as well as reflect upon how scholarships have affected their journey. This year, our very own Couples & Family Therapy student, Kristina (Tina) Alvarado, was selected as the graduate student representative to speak about her journey to the School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University and what it means to her to receive scholarship support. The afternoon was filled with good conversation, food, fellowship, and gratitude. In case you couldn’t attend, see Tina’s speech below!
My name is Tina Alvarado and I am a graduate student at the School of Theology and Ministry in the Couples and Family Therapy Program. I am two years into the three year degree program and 7 months ago I began interning as a therapist at Seattle Therapy Alliance, an organization that offers affordable therapy for women. It still feels a little weird to call myself a therapist—I am doing things I never thought I could. How did I get here? I sometimes wonder that too. Let me tell you the story…
As an undergraduate student at another Jesuit school, Loyola Marymount University, in my native Los Angeles, CA, I studied sociology and Spanish. Like many undergraduate students, at the time I wasn’t really sure what I would do with those degrees but I knew I loved language and was curious about why people do the things they do and how they made sense of the world. I also had a strong dedication to the volunteer service work I was doing. I spent a lot of time with people who were homeless and found purpose in sitting with them and listening. I was struck and saddened by the way these people were made to feel like nothing, invisible, undignified—that along the way they had been told they were unworthy of love and care so many times that they had begun to believe it.
After college, I joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, a Jesuit-minded volunteer service program that asks volunteers to commit to a year or more of full-time volunteer service and live according to their four values: social justice, community, simple living, and spirituality. As a JVC volunteer, I was assigned to work in an emergency shelter for homeless young adults in Atlanta, GA. Most of the teens I worked with were between the ages of 18 and 21 and had been homeless for weeks, months, sometimes years. Many of them had run away from abusive homes, others had been pushed out of their homes, and some had “aged out” of the foster care system. They had all found ways to survive on the streets by couch surfing or sleeping in abandoned buildings. By the time I met them, they had experienced more hurt and betrayal than I could have ever imagined. The work left me physically, mentally and emotionally drained—I wasn’t sure I had the energy to make it through the year. However, I developed a profound (and sometimes infuriating) love for the teens I worked with. I found that in the moments in between my daily tasks, as I sat collecting myself or resting my feet, my clients would seek me out, sit next to me and just start talking. Something about me or the situation made them feel safe enough to tell me about their lives—many times sharing stories of horrific situations, fear, sadness, and loneliness. I was honored by their openness and vulnerability…and I was saddened by the hardships of their lives.
Time and again, I encountered people who had been told so often that they are worthless and unworthy of love that they believed it—they didn’t know any different. I began to think that not only did I enjoy bearing witness to their lives, but that I might have a gift for it. Sometimes all you can do is listen; however, you can only hold so much pain without wanting to do something about it—and I wanted to do something. I wanted to do more than just listen—I wanted to have the tools to help people make sense of their experiences in a way that affirmed and honored their dignity as human beings. For the first time I started to feel a true sense of vocation for therapy work.
Throughout my experience with JVC this little feeling grew stronger and louder. I researched therapy programs across the country, I prayed, I talked to friends, I reflected and I paid attention. I started noticing the times I felt most energized by my work. I considered my own formation: How had I come to make sense of the world? I thought about my own powerful experiences in therapy. I thought about my spirituality and its influence on the way I made meaning of my life experiences. I decided that if only there was a program that could train me as a therapist, approach therapy work in a way that considered the systems that impact us, integrated a diverse sense of spirituality, and was housed in a Jesuit University it would be perfect for me. I kid you not…I thought this was my idea.
I stumbled across Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry and discovered their program called Relationship and Pastoral Therapy (now named Couples and Family Therapy). Let me read you the degree description:
MA in Couples and Family Therapy: a couples and family therapy program integrating systems and psychological theories, supervised clinical experience, theological education, and spiritual formation in order to clinically heal and empower diverse families, individuals, and groups from any faith and culture.
Of course I haven’t done this all by myself. I’ve had the emotional support of friends and family, professors and mentors, an incredible partner, and the financial support of donors like you.
As many know, financial worries take an exorbitant amount of energy—worrying about tuition costs, books costs, living costs and more can feel very heavy on top of course work and jobs. If I have learned anything about myself as a therapist, it’s that I need all the energy I can possibly get to do my work well. As a therapist, so much of the work involves using myself as a tool—and if I’m not rested and well, I can’t do my job well. As with anyone who is passionate about their work, I care about being the best therapist I can be for my clients. I am currently a full-time student, work as a graduate assistant, spend at least 20 hours a week at my internship, and am trying to maintain important relationships and take care of myself. I know I am not the only one struggling to stay balanced. Energy is such a precious resource as a graduate student and I have been so incredibly grateful over the past two years to receive scholarship support to ease some of the financial burden of graduate school. Freeing up that energy to devote instead to the work I care about is HUGE and donors like you are giving people like me the chance to be the best we can be in our work.
Mother Theresa said: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
Our culture can be so good at pitting us against each other—our world has become one where the only way to get ahead is to tear someone else down. I thank you for showing us another way. Money matters, and where you choose to put your money matters. The fact that you are all here and have chosen to support students like me shows that you are choosing to value education, scholarship, passion, learning, discovery, formation, vocation, service, and justice. You have found what excites you and brings you life and you are supporting others in doing the same. I commend your foresight—your choice to believe in people and all that they have to offer. And your investment pays off. You are putting leaders into the world that are holistically formed, grounded in values, and oriented towards justice and today we celebrate that investment.
You as donors are not just helping us as students; your service extends beyond that. You are helping to improve the communities that we live in. You are raising the bar for the professions that we go into. You are helping create a more just and humane world.