In 2008, DaJavon Davis '12 became the first person in his family to graduate high school, and he didn't stop there. Despite growing up in a home where college "was almost a foreign language," Davis persisted, earning a bachelor's in psychology with a concentration in counseling and health from Emmanuel in 2012 and, this year, a master's in marriage and family therapy from Fairfield University. The Hartford, Conn., native worked hard to change his circumstances for a simple reason - he didn't see any other option.
Davis was born to a teenaged mother who dropped out of high school to take care of her responsibilities (she later obtained her GED) and struggled to make ends meet, with the family even spending a period of time homeless. While she could recognize the benefits of her son attending college, both she and Davis thought it would be impossible to afford - nevermind that no one in his family had any notion of what the college application process was like or how to navigate it.
"I just remember feeling so lost and overwhelmed," Davis said. "I was lucky to have some teachers and guidance counselors who I became really close to and who helped me through the process. If it weren't for them, I would have never made it out of my hometown, which could have been a recipe for a very different life. There was no room for failure."
Though he originally planned to attend school as a theater major, his path led him to Emmanuel College and, initially, a major in sociology. After an introductory psychology course, Davis changed his major, but didn't leave his first passions behind - through a sociology class, he took an interest in gender studies and declared it as a minor along with performing arts.
"I knew that psych was where my heart was," he said. "Then, I took a relationship and marriage class, and it completely changed the way I viewed the world. I started to have a better understanding of who I was and how I had become the person I was. It also opened my eyes to marriage and family therapy."
He also credits the experimental psychology courses he took with Associate Professor of Psychology Dr. Kimberly Smirles in helping shape so much of his life. He became a research assistant for a doctoral candidate researching support systems for homeless youth and gained skills that enabled him to conduct his thesis in graduate school.
"I guess you could say that [Smirles] sparked the little social scientist inside of me," Davis said.
As a senior at Emmanuel, Davis began seriously thinking about his next steps and, though nervous about not having a definitive plan, he started exploring the idea of therapy with Assistant Professor of Psychology Dr. Jacqueline Alfonso Barry. After determining his background and skills could be applied to marriage and family therapy as well as drama therapy (the use of theater techniques to facilitate personal growth and mental health), he applied to programs in both fields and was accepted to each of the four schools to which he applied.
He eventually settled on the master's program in marriage and family therapy at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut, to be near home and his own family - a decision he calls "one of the greatest choices I have ever made."
Service to others extends beyond Davis' career path and into his personal life. While in his second year at Fairfield, he was recognized by the Office of Graduate Student Life for demonstrating excellence in academics as well as service within his community. His citation included service activities such as the "Second Saturdays for Families" event at Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, the organization of a "Solidarity Sleepout" to educate and unite Hartford residents around the issue of homelessness, New York Cares Day and Fenway Health's largest fundraisers, the Men's and Women's Events, as well as fundraising runs for cancer and AIDS research whenever possible.
Currently, Davis works at United Community and Family Services as a Marriage and Family Clinician, where he sees more than 50 clients, and runs a social learning group for four-to-six-year-old children on the spectrum and a clinical support group for high school kids on the topic of LGBT issues.
He plans to obtain his licensure soon and hopes to expand into working with college-aged individuals and also become certified in drama therapy. Other plans include returning to school in the near future to become a holistic psychiatrist.
"Even though this is my plan, I understand that life throws curve balls at you and you have to be able to go with the flow," Davis said. "This is just the beginning for me."