Commencement Address, Spring 2011 - Mark Lovell

Dr. Mark R. Lovell Commencement Speech

Having an Impact on Your Future and Your World.

Mark R. Lovell, Ph.D., FACPN

NMU Spring Commencement, 2011



Greetings and Introduction

President and Mrs. Wong, Members of the Board of Trustees, Provost Koch, Distinguished Members of the Faculty, and particularly members of the Graduating Class of 2011, Parents, friends, and guests.


It is a tremendous honor for me to have the opportunity to speak briefly with you today and a real pleasure to be back in Marquette. It is also very special for me to have my wife Eileen with me today for this occasion. Eileen and I have been married for over 34 years and she has been my biggest supporter over the years.


I have vivid memories of walking across this stage in 1977 to receive my degree from President John Jamrich and never would have guessed at that time that I would be back here today under these circumstances today. I also remember how proud my mother and father were. My Dad really wanted to be here today but at 90, the trip from Grand Rapids would have been a bit difficult.


As I reflect back on the 34 years since my graduation, it is easy to see how my experiences at Northern provided the foundation for success in my professional and personal life. I owe this university a great deal and feel that my time at NMU was perhaps the most important and transformational time of my life.


We are all different and reach our goals in a different way but I hope that my brief remarks will help you in some small way throughout your lives.


Honestly, I will be very happy if you remember even one of the points that I make today.


Not to bore you too much with my personal history but I came to Northern as a bit of an underachiever. Quite frankly, I found High School to be boring. However, this soon changed when I arrived at Northern. I immediately felt at home in the UP and found that the natural beauty of the area provided an excellent backdrop for my education.


In particular, I found that the incredible amount of individualized attention and mentoring that I received through the Department of Psychology provided excellent preparation for graduate study. I have to thank Drs. John Renfrew and Pryse Duerfeldt for their active mentoring and belief in my abilities, even when I doubted myself from time to time.


As I moved on to graduate school, it became clear to me that I was often better prepared than my classmates- many of them being from larger schools. In particular, my colleagues were amazed that I was allowed to lead seminars and serve as a teaching assistant as an undergraduate. These were opportunities that they did not have access to. In fact, I found that many of my graduate school colleagues did not even know their undergraduate professors. At Northern, the faculty members were a constant source of support and mentoring and developed close working relationships with the students. I understand that this is a philosophy that has continued to this day and it is one thing that makes Northern special and unique.


To put it simply, NMU provided the perfect environment for my personal growth.  Honestly, I can’t imagine having attended another University.


Developing and Living the Dream

Most people that I meet tell me that I have a “dream job” and I am inclined to agree with them. After all, I am doing exactly what I wanted to do when I started down this path as a student at Northern. What’s not to like? On a day to day basis, I work with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Pittsburgh Penguins and yes, even occasionally I deal with the Packers….


So how did I get here and how did Northern help to prepare me…

My dream has always been to combine my interest in sports in with the field of neuropsychology. However, I had a fundamental problem:  The field of Sports Neuropsychology did not exist at that time.  This created some initial obstacles for me. In fact, in the 1970’s there were only a handful of graduate programs in neuropsychology nationally and none that offered specific training in working with athletes, while now there are hundreds of Ph.D. programs and an increasing number of Sport-oriented programs, including the program that I developed in Pittsburgh back in 2000.


Many years ago, I remember discussing this dilemma with Dr. John Renfrew who was my mentor and advisor at the time. We decided that I would need to configure somewhat of a hybrid program that would allow me to eventually combine my interest in the neurosciences with my interest in working directly with people. He definitely guided me down the right path


After leaving Northern in 1977 and spending two years in Kansas (where I met my wife Eileen), I was accepted into an innovative Ph.D. program at the Chicago Medical School that combined aspects of Psychology with the neurosciences. This took a bit of a leap of faith on my part as the program was in only its second year and had not yet been accredited by the American Psychological Association. I followed my heart and my instincts, we moved to Chicago and I have never regretted it.


Upon finishing my Doctorate in Chicago and completing my internship and fellowship at Nebraska, we moved to Pittsburgh where I had the opportunity to begin to work with the Pittsburgh Steelers at a time when no one knew what a neuropsychologist was or what I did. More often than not I was referred to as a “Psycho neurologist” rather than a “Neuropsychologist”. I think you can see how the first label may have been problematic…..


Finally, things were shaping up the way I had dreamed that they might earlier in my life.


Lessons Learned Along the Way

I have now been working as a neuropsychologist since 1984. I have had my share of successes as well as failures. I also think that I have developed some perspective on what has helped me to eventually reach my long-term goals. I would like to provide you with just a few thoughts that may be helpful to you in the future.


Embrace Change and Development throughout Your Life

First and foremost, remember that life is a never ending series of developmental steps and you leave here today as a work in progress just as I did many years ago. In healthy and happy people, this process of development continues throughout our life and we hopefully continue to learn and grow along the way. Personally, I hope I never lose the curiosity of a child that has kept me learning throughout my adult life.


Perhaps the most important part of the growth process is learning to deal with change. Psychologists have known for years that happy and successful people view change as a challenge rather than as a threat and view change as a temporary obstacle rather than as a roadblock.


Throughout my career, I have often had to deal with changing circumstances and new challenges. Back in 2000, I was working as a Division Head at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. I had been hired away from Pittsburgh to direct the Division of Neuropsychology. At that time, Sports Neuropsychology was more or less a “hobby” and I spent much of my professional time dealing with other neurological diseases and injuries. Although I enjoyed this work, it was not really what I wanted to do.


Then it happened!  I was offered a position within a Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh that would allow me to work with athletes on a full-time basis. Wow, what an opportunity. So we packed up and moved to Pittsburgh. However, once we arrived, I realized that none of the surgeons had ever worked with a neuropsychologist before and really had no clue as to what it was that I did. One surgeon actually asked me if I was the guy who they were bringing in to do acupuncture and help people quite smoking….


During that first year, the patient referrals were few and far between and (for a split second) I began to question the move back to Pittsburgh. However, this didn’t last long. My assistant Micky Collins and I dug in our heels and decided that we needed to adapt to our new circumstances. We went on a non-stop educational tour starting within our own department and spreading to schools and leagues in the area and the request for our services began to pick up. At the current time, we now routinely evaluate over 200 athletes per week in the Pittsburgh area and work with over 5,000 professional, college and high school teams.


Be Ready to Recognize and Seize Opportunity

Another important component of my journey has been recognizing important opportunities and being ready to act when an opportunity presents itself.Back in the 1980’s one of my major opportunities presented itself when I was approached by Dr. Joseph Maroon, the Steelers Neurosurgeon. Joe had a problem: He had concerns about the readiness of the starting quarterback to play in an upcoming game but Chuck Knoll, the Steelers coach at the time pressed him on HOW HE KNEW that the QB had suffered a concussion. The fact is that back then, there was no way of evaluating concussion and Doctors were forced to go on their “gut reaction” in making decisions. At this point in we decided that we needed to develop a more systematic and objective way of evaluating concussion. This in turn led to my direct work with the Steelers and eventually to the development of the ImPACT Program.


This approach later became the model for the entire NFL when one of the Steelers players and current ESPN broadcaster-Merrill Hoge was traded to another team, had a series of concussions and eventually retired from sports. Merrill came back to Pittsburgh for his treatment and the NFL asked me to help them develop a more league wide approach. The NHL soon followed as well as other professional leagues.


I often wonder what would have happened if I had not had lunch with Dr. Maroon that day in 1986. I would like to think that I would have found a way to get involved but obviously, having this opportunity provided the springboard for the rest of my career.


Be Goal-Oriented

Having big dreams is important and keeps us focused on our futures but dreams without a plan are of little value. While dreams are the destination, goals are the roadmaps that help us achieve our goals. You need to set goals and review them regularly to make your dreams a reality: I firmly believe that one of the most important things we can do in your life is set goals. Without goals, nothing meaningful ever happens and time can slip away.


In addition, set both short-term and long term goals. Be thinking of where you want to be in 2 years, 5 years, and 10 years and at the end of your career.


In my own life, I have found it helpful to try to accomplish at least one thing each day that moves me closer to reach my goals, even if it is very small. This is particularly important when I am having a bad day and nothing seems to be happening the way I expected.


This strategy has pulled me through difficult and challenging times. I remember one particular time during my freshman year lying in my bed in my dorm room in Hunt Hall feeling discouraged and overwhelmed by the fact that I had two big exams the next day, had no money and it felt like there was no way I was going to make it through the school year. For a brief moment, I felt paralyzed by fear and uncertainty. I somehow persuaded myself to get out of bed and study for another half hour. I somehow obtained an A and a B on the exams, and things began to look more positive. Although this was a relatively small and insignificant event at the time, I have never forgotten it and it has become an important mantra in my life: When things are going badly, pick some small goal that moves you forward and makes you feel like you have accomplished something every day.


You will be amazed at how obtaining small goals on a daily basis over time can help you reach your more long term goals and keeps you on track.


Defining Your Own Legacy


Finally, I would like to emphasize the importance of giving back to the world. What do you want to give back and what will your legacy be when you are gone.  How would you like people to remember you? Although I am only 58 years old, I find myself thinking more and more about how I want to spend the rest of my life, how I would like people to remember me and what my contribution will be. Will people remember that I was here? What will my impact be? 


What we give back to the world can take many forms. For some it is volunteering as a big brother or big sister (as I did while an NMU student), for others it is donating blood or working with Habitat for Humanity. For others it is volunteering financial resources. Although money can be a powerful tool in helping to change the world, it is not near as important as personal involvement and hard work.


The point is that we all contribute to the world in different ways but it is important to give back and have an impact on the world.


I have very much enjoyed talking to you today and this weekend has been very exciting for Eileen and I and we will never forget this place in time. I wish all of you the very best in your journey through life. 


Thank you and good luck.