Kel Lyn Smith
Alumni News

Graduating Student Reflection: Kel Lynn Smith

Our Graduating Student Reflection Speech at the 55th Convocation Ceremony of California Institute for Integral Studies

Kel Lynn Smith, M.A. Counseling Psychology Alumna May 14, 2023

Kel Lynn Smith, M.A., is a 2023 graduating student in Counseling Psychology with a Concentration in Somatic Psychology. She is currently in practicum at Queer LifeSpace in San Francisco where she facilitates the Gender Spectrum Support Group.

Thank you President Blomberg and good afternoon. My name is Kel Lynn Smith, and I would like to begin by expressing my gratitude to California Institute of Integral Studies for the honor of sharing with you all on this momentous occasion, and for the opportunity to grow and transform within this institution. I would like to thank my peers for reminding me that we don’t have to go through things alone, and my professors for the generous gift of your wisdom. I would like to thank my loved ones for supporting me throughout this process, and for making it possible for me to be here with you all today. As a somatics student, I would be doing my program a great disservice if I got up here and didn’t invite you all to take a breath with me, so I am going to extend that invitation to join me in a breath now. [BREATH]

As I look back at my time in the Somatic Psychology Program at CIIS, I have learned many valuable lessons, the most meaningful of which I believe has been how to be profoundly human by coming back to myself, my home, my soma. How to inhabit myself attentively, with acceptance and compassionate care.

Throughout my time here, we have been impacted by an increase in global warming and natural disasters, fires turning the skies orange with flames and then gray with ash. Rainstorms that wash highways away, and winds that uproot trees and knock over semi trucks. We have been impacted by a rise in income inequality, and increases in the cost of living. An increase in health disparities. An increase in police violence and mass shootings. The banning of books and subjects like critical race theory and queer studies. A war on bodily autonomy, including a large increase in anti-trans legislation. And there is so. Much. More.

During my time in this school I have been constantly reminded of our interconnectedness, while simultaneously getting caught up in the allure of isolation, alienation, dissociation. It’s all too much. It’s hopeless. I’m scared. How do we keep going? I invite you to join me in another breath now. [BREATH] Another moment to notice, to witness, to behold. Another possibility for transformation to take place.

In my studies here, I have learned about one of my personal favorite neuroscience concepts proposed by Louis Cozolino, the social synapse. The premise of the social synapse is that we are all connected, and that we are constantly exchanging information with one another through a means beyond conventional language. That our nervous systems communicate down to the cellular level in ways we are still just beginning to understand scientifically. This suggests that disregulation may in fact be contagious. It also suggests perhaps, that through regulating one's own nervous system, that through tending to one's self while tending to others, the nervous systems we exist in relationship to may begin to regulate as well.

Our interconnectedness goes beyond just this co-regulation. We are made of borrowed matter that has existed here in multitudes of iterations for millennia. The water we consume and are made of has moved through and shaped landscapes and organisms for as long as it has been here. The air particles we breathe have moved through other beings on this planet since it became encased in our atmosphere.

Over the past three years, I have seen us endure and keep ourselves and one another alive. We have witnessed and experienced great grief, loss, and transformation. As I have been navigating my medical transition along with the transition in the way that society responds to my existence as a proud transgender woman, I have all too often gotten swept away from myself, from my body, my home, my soma.

And then I return to what I learned here. How to come back to me. Whenever I slow down and breathe; when I tend to and regulate my system, and this constant communication we are all in with one another through this social synapse, I find myself reminded once again that my existence is in relation to this borrowed matter that I am made of, each and every one of you, and to this place. That the fact that I exist is in and of itself a reminder of my right to exist.

As I look out at you all this afternoon and invite you to join me in one closing breath in reflection of what we have all done to get ourselves here today [BREATH], I feel immense hope for our capacity to come home to ourselves and one another, our capacity for change, our capacity to behold, and our capacity to be whole. As we move through today and step out of this institution and onto whatever life has in store for us next, I invite us to remember that we can always come back home, to ourselves, to our somas, to our shared interconnectedness. I invite us to remember that our individual liberation is inextricably and irrefutably tied up in our collective liberation.

Thank you all for being here and congratulations to this graduating class!

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