“I got blown up. Then PTSD.” That’s about all Jeffery Pollock wants to say about what ended his U.S. Army service during the Iraq War. But he stood proud Monday as he led several thousand people in the Pledge of Allegiance at Palm Beach Atlantic’s commencement. And now, with a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling, he stands ready to help others, as a man who has persevered through more than his share of hardship and heartbreak.
It was hard enough going back to school – trying to put the pain of the war behind him and adjusting to how college had changed since he earned his bachelor’s degree. “I hadn’t written a paper in close to 20 years,” he said. Then a pandemic hit.
Both of Pollock’s parents landed in the hospital with COVID-19, his dad on the third floor and his mom in intensive care. When his mother died, he told his father he was going to quit the master’s degree program.
“No, no,” said his dad. “Life doesn’t stop. You go back to school.” A few days later COVID took his father’s life as well.
That was two years ago. Pollock took the summer off, grieving and dealing with all the details regarding his parents’ home and estate. Then he came back to PBA, explaining to counseling Professor Dr. Philip Henry, “I’ve got to do it. I can’t quit, because my dad wanted me to finish.”
Pollock faced a rigorous program: challenging classes plus practicum and internship, requiring 700 hours of counseling experience. But he drew much support from his cohort of counseling students: “My family, I call them. It’s just a blessing to be here.”
And most helpful, he said, was “the experience in the field that the professors bring to the table,” sharing stories about their work in counseling. “These experienced clinicians; they’ve been doing this for years.
“And they’re so genuine,” Pollock said. “I love my professors.”
Those professors watched proudly as Pollock walked across the stage Monday, and they thought about the impact he will have helping others. “He’ll go the extra mile,” said Professor Henry. “That’s the way he is.”
Henry recalled the qualities he saw in Pollock that will serve him well in counseling. “He’s a warm, inviting person, with great patience. He’s the biggest-hearted guy. And he’s a person of faith. That’s a part of what helped him get through those tough times.”
Pollock, a Boynton Beach native, is unsure exactly what counseling role or location he’ll pursue, “but I know I want to serve the public.” As a person of color, he feels a special calling to the culture that often discourages people from showing emotion or asking for help. This is especially a barrier for Black men, he said.
“It’s important for me to serve my community and let them know there’s nothing wrong with going to counseling,” Pollock said. He wants to convince young Black men, especially, that showing emotion is no sign of weakness, “and I want them to know that therapy works.”
Henry predicts that Pollock’s clients will find his counseling sessions to be like a welcoming front porch. The youngsters among those clients will look up to a pretty tall guy, Henry said. “But he’s kind of like a teddy bear. He’s a big, lovable guy.”
Photo: Jeffery Pollock leads the Pledge of Allegiance at commencement at the South Florida Fairgrounds on Monday, May 9, 2022.