It was a big day! There were more speeches, but here's a sampling of 2:
John Vella, Faculty and BOD:
When I had graduated from acupuncture school 11 years ago, I had never expected that I would be speaking to a class of graduating students whose training is founded in the nuances of service to those who are underserved. I also, never would have anticipated speaking to a graduating class we call ‘punks’, whom I helped to train. Finally (after many, many years of contemplation, research and inquiry, and bold moves) POCA Tech exists and is graduating its first class.
Community Acupuncture and POCA is made up of punks. And one of the characteristics of those punks is a pioneering spirit. Pioneering in their determination to open clinics, typically with very few resources. Pioneers in their commitment and day-to-day work of making acupuncture accessible to the everyday people of the world. And, in the way they willingly and creatively confront challenges. The myriad of challenges imposed by the inequities of capitalism and the various distortions of view point regarding race, gender, class, etc. You have all already demonstrated a pioneering spirit in your willingness to be a part of the first cohort of POCA Tech, and in that way each of you started here with some ‘punkness’ inside of you.
You have significantly helped to shape the school for the present and future students, and therefore all future punks. And, speaking for myself, you have significantly helped to shape me as an instructor. I have learned a lot from you all. As they say, ‘teacher learns most.’ So, thank you for that.
I also want to recognize how much of yourselves you have put into completing this program.
The sheer volume of your time, your time management, your resolution in figuring out how to afford a school out-of-pocket, your willingness to move to Portland (dealing with unsatisfying jobs and finding housing in an insane housing market). And your capacity to roll with the changes. And to roll with the punches, as well. Over all, I admire your determination and ability to persevere. Perseverance is another major characteristic of being a punk. A lot of what we do as punks is ‘show up’. Consistently. We show up for the patients, we show up for our colleagues, we show up for the volunteers. We show up for the profound changes in people’s lives that building community around acupuncture can make happen. And each of you have demonstrated the characteristic of perseverance. You will need that characteristic to meet the communities that you serve, where they are at and on their terms.
I originally met you all as ‘punklings’, and I am now glad to be able to call you ‘punks’. And I am glad to be able to officially call you comrades and colleagues in POCA. I look forward to seeing the ways in which each of you continue to contribute to Community Acupuncture. And to hearing your stories of the relationships you build through the practice.
So as you go to the next stage of establishing yourselves as acu-punks, hang on to that pioneering spirit, that perseverance, and that commitment you have to do right by the world through practicing community acupuncture. There are a lot of people and communities who need you in that role, and the relationships you build with them will be your most profound compensation for all of your efforts.
Lisa Rohleder, ED:
Congratulations, Cohort 1 — you’ve just done something really, really hard. Maybe harder than you expected it would be.
It was also harder than we expected it would be.
In getting through acupuncture school, you’ve accomplished a lot of things but there are two that I want to particularly mention, because I think it’s important not to take them for granted.
If I had to sum up why so many people in the POCA Cooperative went to all the trouble of creating an acupuncture school in the first place, I would say the most basic thing was that we needed acupuncturists who are on the side of their patients.
You might reasonably think this is a basic requirement we could totally take for granted, but the POCA Cooperative learned the hard way that, unfortunately, it’s totally not. The profit motive in health care, and capitalism itself, tend to undermine practitioners’ ability to be on their patients’ side. And weird things happen when you take a medicine that originated in another culture, a couple of millennia ago, and interject it into American society in the 21st century, such that it’s easy for acupuncturists to get very distracted and to lose sight of the most basic thing we’re doing…
which is, relieving suffering in our communities. And we’re most effective at that when we start by being on our patients’ side. Rather than seeing patients as units of income, or as empty vessels to fill with our wisdom, or as consumers with demands to meet — these are all ways, in capitalism, that we could potentially reduce people to objects. It takes energy for acupuncturists to resist all that.
This is where it’s helpful that all of you have done this thing that was maybe harder than you expected. Because community acupuncture clinics are filled with people, ordinary people with ordinary incomes, for whom something — sometimes their whole entire lives — has turned out to be harder than they expected. They’re bearing various burdens, and some of them have turned out to be very heavy. Chronic pain. Depression. Anxiety. A life threatening illness, for them or for someone they love.
They’re who we’re here for. We show up to be on their side. To accompany them. To lighten those burdens if we can.
Cohort 1, we trust all of you absolutely to do that. And that’s a big deal, to us and to the rest of the POCA Cooperative. It will be a big deal to your future patients, though lots of them might not have the language to describe it that way. Your teachers and clinic supervisors know that you really get it, and you can be trusted with ordinary people’s vulnerabilities and suffering and struggles. You’re all up to the task, of putting yourselves on the side of your patients. We also trust you to know your way around the meridians in a way that none of us did when we graduated, to know your way around multiple treatment techniques and to be able to make good clinical decisions right out of the gate. And that’s fantastic. But it kind of pales in comparison to trusting that you’re in fundamental solidarity with your patients.
The second accomplishment that I want to highlight is that you’ve managed to survive for three years out on the ragged edge of organizational development. I didn’t come up with that phrase; some co-op experts said that when they were scratching their heads trying to understand why POCA was such a weird-looking co-op and trying to figure out if it was even a co-op at all. They settled on saying, well, whatever it is, congratulations on finding your way out to the ragged edge of organizational development.
You all found your way here too, and impressively, you managed to stay. You didn’t panic or give up or throw up your hands and decide there were too many uncertainties, too many unknowns, too many risks. And that’s a major strength on your part.
Just like it would be possible to take your solidarity with your patients for granted, because you're so good at it and it looks so effortless on you, it would also be possible to take your bravery for granted, and I really don’t want us to do that. Cohort 1 boldly went where nobody had gone before.
So this is a celebration not just of you making it through acupuncture school, but of those qualities in you. I hope these are things that you remember about yourselves and appreciate, your bravery and your solidarity. I hope you give yourselves lots of credit for them. I hope you remember them the next time you undertake something that turns out to be harder than you expected. You’ll always be the ones who went first, the explorers who stepped out into the unknown, the ones who blazed the trail.