Graduates pursue healthy ambitions

Tai Sophia Institute awards degrees in the healing arts

June 10, 2007|By Jessica Dexheimer | Jessica Dexheimer,SUN REPORTER

The graduation ceremony was a little out of the ordinary.

Chants of ai-ya, ai-ya echoed through the Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake High School as Diane Connelly, chancellor of Tai Sophia Institute, attempted to regain the audience's attention. Not that this was an unruly crowd: Unlike many graduations Howard County has seen, this one was free of beach balls, air horns or heckling.

Instead, audience members were urged to introduce themselves to one another, and Connelly asked grandparents, parents, spouses and children of the graduates to stand up and be recognized for their contributions to the success of the 48 new alumni.

"There are lots of great people of peace right here in this room," the speaker, Dr. Tatyana Maltseva, said with a smile.

The ceremony proceeded, and 35 graduates received master of acupuncture degrees, eight received herbal medicine degrees and five were awarded applied healing arts degrees.

The commencement ceremony Wednesday night honored the graduates of Tai Sophia in Laurel. The institute, founded in 1975 as a small healing arts clinic, has grown to become one of the nation's top academic institutions for wellness-based education. The institute boasts nearly 1,000 alumni and was named the 2006 Business of the Year by the Howard County Chamber of Commerce.

Though the graduation was not wholly traditional, that was fine with the graduates. Many of them had chosen Tai Sophia to help them make the switch from more traditional jobs to careers in alternative medicine.

Don James, who received a master of acupuncture degree, is one such individual.

Originally from western Kentucky, James, 56, received a bachelor's degree from the State University of New York at Albany, where he studied math and atmospheric science.

"Basically, I was this close to being a weatherman," James said with a laugh.

He worked for the mayor's office in New York City before moving to Columbia in the early 1970s. He worked for the Department of Justice for about 10 years, then held leadership roles in marketing and sales for a variety of companies.

James' wife had been receiving acupuncture treatment for years when she suggested that he try it for his high blood pressure. The treatments worked for James, and his blood pressure dropped 20 points.

"I was sitting there in the [acupuncturist's] waiting room and I noticed everyone's faces as they were leaving," recalled James. "They were serene, peaceful - even joyful. I thought, I'd like to do that on a daily basis. I'd like to have a job where I can make people walk away with a good perspective."

James' wife and the acupuncturist encouraged him to pursue his interest in alternative medicine, and he began what he calls "the bold life in service to others" in 2003 when he enrolled at Tai Sophia.

James, who fulfilled all of the institute's academic requirements last fall, has opened his practice, Ling Tai, in Columbia. He said that acupuncture can benefit people with common ailments including back problems, migraines, allergies, post-traumatic stress disorder, road rage and drug addiction.

"It helps with working-mom guilt and what I call `frozen heart,' a difficulty feeling emotions," the father of two said. "One of my most important roles is to wake up my patient. Are they living on automatic? Are they waking up and just reliving the day before? I want to introduce new ways of living life."

Diane Juray, also a master's degree recipient, said that one attraction of acupuncture is that "it doesn't involve putting anything unnatural into our bodies, anything that we don't know the effects of. Acupuncture is basically the body doing what it does best: healing itself."

Like James, Juray made the switch to acupuncture after having positive experiences with the practice. She had been sick in the early 1990s and found that Western medicine had not worked for her, but alternative forms, such as acupuncture, seemed to help a lot.

"I wanted to help others like I had been helped," said Juray, 50.

The New York native received an undergraduate degree from the State University of New York at Binghamton, where she studied math and art history, and she attended Cambridge College for graduate school. She stayed in New York and worked for a number of years in engineering software for a defense company.

Juray made the decision to attend Tai Sophia while she and her husband were living and working in the Marshall Islands.

"I've had an interest in complementary medicine since I can remember," Juray said.

"It ended up being about timing," she said. "I got laid off, and it was like the universe was telling me it was time to do what I had been wanting to do for so long."

The institute was what brought Juray, now a Columbia resident, to the area.

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