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Commencement Countdown | Q&A with Chauncey Burnett

50-year-old social work grad who overcame addiction now wants to help others do the same

Steve Jones

Chauncey Burnett will participate in the Spalding commencement ceremony on Saturday in celebration of completing his bachelor of science in social work degree (BSSW). Burnett’s graduation is a remarkable achievement for a 50-year-old who has battled addiction throughout his life and spent time in jail as a younger man. The father of five is also celebrating 10 years’ sobriety this week.

Burnett, who transferred to Spalding in 2016 from Jefferson Community and Technical College, will be continuing at Spalding this fall to earn his master’s in social work (MSW) while focusing his studies on addiction recovery.  Burnett hopes to help and inspire people who are facing the same struggles he has faced, and he’d like to operate a recovery house someday.

He is now the School of Social Work’s representative in the Student Government Association Senate, has done practicum work in restorative justice and is a student ambassador for the School of Social Work.

He said he is open to sharing his story because the missteps “don’t define me.”

“If my story can help somebody else see who I am and it makes them want to give it a shot. I’m happy to do it.”

“Spalding’s mission statement,” Burnett said, “that really is me.”

Here is more from Chauncey …

How did you end up at Spalding?

“Along with sobriety comes change and taking on another challenge: Stay sober and do something better and do something for other people. When I was in my social work program at JCTC, (Acting Chair of the Spalding School of Social Work) Dr. Shannon Cambron came over there and talked to us a little bit and gave some insight on social work and about how maybe we ought to come to Spalding to do it. She talked about how small the class sizes were and about what more we could get from it. Sometimes you don’t believe that people are going to actually be there for you and make sure you’ve got guidance when you need it.  It’s one thing to tell a person, ‘You’ll get through it.’ I’ve been told that before and was left, really, by myself. But (the Spalding faculty) really stuck to their word, and that’s why I am here today.”

What is your favorite Spalding memory?

“There are many, because I got to meet so many people. But at this point, it’s going to have to be graduating. Probably when I hit that stage, I’ll pass out, cry, jump, do a rock and roll jump, I don’t know. …  The day of the solar eclipse was a memorable day, too, because everyone was together (at Mother Catherine Square) and sharing their glasses when they ran out of glasses. It was really cool.”

Which accomplishments are you most proud of during your time at Spalding?

“Being able to overcome self – the times I wanted to quit, times I had to be motivated to ask for help and not thinking that everybody is against me and wanting to see me fail. Reading half these textbooks, I was looking at it as far as ways I could learn to help other people. But I’m finding in these textbooks how to help myself because I never looked for self-help anywhere (before being sober and getting to college). It was just, if it made me feel good or made me feel better, that’s what I did. I couldn’t have cared less about anybody else. But by coming into this profession and looking to help somebody else, I’ve seen how I can help myself. I’ll never forget any of the struggles and any of the accomplishments because I allowed myself to be vulnerable. There’s a thing with me about not wanting to ask for help, feeling like I’m making myself look weak or making myself sound dumb. Reaching out for help, I really didn’t want to. I really had to humble myself during those times.