Graduation Nation: The Speech

For all of you lovey folks who couldn’t be at graduation  to hear me deliver the graduation speech  – Here it is, in all its nerdy glory.


To be chosen to speak from among my peers is a wonderful honor. The other nominees for student speaker, Sarah and CarmenLeah are two gifted social workers whom I have enjoyed knowing and hope to work with in the field for years to come.

I feel grateful to the BU School of Social Work for the education and training I received. I benefited from being able to take classes from such skilled and knowledgeable professors. It is a gift that at BUSSW professors are available to teach our foundation courses on the very topics that are their life’s work. That is a rare gift among the larger schools and universities and something that I will forever be grateful for and will always recommend the program.

In a way I made a blind leap into Social Work. I took it on faith that all I had been told about my suitability for social work to be true. It had been six years since I had attended a class or completed a homework assignment.

In the first year of the program I was so nervous. I felt I had no idea what to expect out of the program or myself.

Most memorable to me in that first year, more memorable even than the task force presentation, was the final research paper in HB 720. Being as it was really the first research paper I’d been asked to write.

I was struggling to find a way to apply theory to a paper on HIV/AIDS and aging and so met with my instructor, Professor Miller. I was sitting in his office with what must have been a dazed look on my face when he very kindly and patiently said, “I find ecological systems theory to be very versatile”.

I smiled politely but in my head I was saying “oh that big Bronfenbrenner article with all its systems that reminded me of an 8th grade lesson on paleontology – with all its systems and layers? Ya, wow, ok.”

But never one to shun well meaning advice I went to the library, pulled out Bronfenbrenner and got to work.

To this day I have that very worn and marked up copy of Bronfrenbrenners article on ecological systems theory in a folder. I have used his work as a basis of nearly all my course work.

It has been said that Social Work lacks its own body of knowledge and instead relies on the knowledge of other social science fields. I used to say the same thing. But now I don’t think that’s true. What I think is that we do have a unique body of knowledge – it perhaps doesn’t get enough recognition.

If you look at ecological systems theory in its simplest, barest form I think you get a glimpse of what the heart of social works body of knowledge is- the interconnectedness between a person and community and society.

Every person is influenced by the places they come from and the communities in which they live – we are all a sum of the pieces of what we take from our families, friends, and the expectations and conditions placed upon us by the society in which we live.

Social workers, more then a lot of professions understand the profundity of this simple equation.

These gory, slash and burn economic times we live in are truly devastating to the poor and indeed to middle class as well.

State and federal budgets will not only be balanced on the backs of the most vulnerable but on us, our work and the services we help to provide.

If the people crafting budgets get their way, the landscape of public welfare will forever be changed. Our jobs will increasingly look like desperate attempts to keep people from falling off the edge.

So this is it – this is our time to shine! As newly minted social workers we need embrace our full and vibrant body of knowledge and start organizing ourselves, our communities, our clients and co-workers for social change and compel our profession as a whole to do the same.

There is a great need for the work we do to spill over into the community – recognizing the interconnectedness of social environments and opening up spaces for the people we work with to be engaged in advocacy and community organizing – to make sure that no budget is balanced at the expense of the poor and marginalized.

This work isn’t just for the macro students – look at us, we’re like this little cadre of nerds over there talking excitedly about theories of organizational culture and sense making. Ok, not really, but you get my drift. You, the clinical students among us are the majority of graduates. But this body of knowledge is shared among us all and the work to make things right falls to all of us.

The work we will do as social workers will never happen outside the context of the social and political climate we live in. Neither too are the lives of the people we work with and their communities unaffected by the social and political times. We exist together in a multitude of social environments that are interacting and shaping one another. Some things are within our power to shape and change. To those things we must focus – no matter how out of reach they may seem.

This sense of obligation to effect lasting social change on many levels is what I take from my time at the BU School of Social work. I hope you to join you all in this work as we move into the field. Congratulations to the Class of 2011.


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