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.

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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.

On Work and the the Life Therein

I am consistently inspired by the hope, tenacity and compassion of the people I work with, all of whom are living with HIV or AIDS. Each time I feel the wax and wane of my motivation to keep working, to wrap my life around a job I am drawn back by those who are called my clients. In reality we are like partners. In implicit and explicit ways we learn from one another and support one another.

Just the other day I was reminded by someone who comes into my work about a very true part of human nature: it is easier to learn to live in crisis management mode and uncertainty then to live a life in progress. Sometimes the hardest parts in our journeys to heal and transform our lives are the moments when we are faced with taking action on necessary change.

When I’ m working with someone who is struggling with housing, addiction, and any manner of mental and emotional trauma, the work becomes most intense when we are the cusp of a stride forward. The greater the stride forward the great the emotional upheaval. I’ve come to notice that a lot o time the this resistance is rooted in self doubt, shame, and pure fear over becoming what we want to be rather then what we are.

I know how to doubt myself, I know how to make excuses, I know how to engage in the same old, same old no matter how destructive it may be. I know how to do it and that is safe, that is practiced, that is where I am known. Outside of that, in the world of my minds eye, my visions for my potential and dreams or my future I am lost. The motions to get there are not practiced but instead are every changing and evolving. That is, on most days, terrifying.

On the brink of getting into a safe, sober housing situation a client will sometimes relapse in a hard, hard way.  The immovable object that is us, stuck in moments of our deepest self-loathing, is a crutch when we we fear that tomorrow won’t be the same, nor will any day after.

This week I lost a client who was also a friend. The death was sudden and unexpected. This person lived a life love for friends and family. But as with so many people I come to know in my work, this person also struggled mightily to overcome addiction, to separate from a violent partner and to stay positive and connected. There are few at my work who did not become close to this person and none who didn’t believe in there potential. But in the end it takes just one bad night or picking up just one too many times to push a body to the breaking point.   There is a quote we often use at work during group sessions: “It is never too late to become the person you were meant to be”.  Not one person at my work  believed that this person couldn’t overcome. I’m hurt and angry of course. But I am also frustrated. I once decided for myself that in the long road ahead working for justice there would still be those left behind, or those who fall under the trundling wheels of the system, those we can not gather up around us and keep safe or help to heal. Those for whom justice will come to late. But damn! if I don’t want to believe that right now. I want this person back. I want to walk into work and see them in the lunch room or in the art room. I want more time. More time to keep them safe and surrounded by love and to once more tell them how very much they mean to me. I want to see the day they become who they were always meant to be. That person you could catch glimpses of during any conversation.

As of late I have been engaged in a lot of very thoughtful conversations with friends about inertia and the fear of embracing the things we truly want to be and do in this world. One friend calls it a coat, another calls it a mask. Both are good descriptors of what I feel hinders me from embracing those things that I feel would complete my self image. Those things that would set me in a constant motion of transformation and growth. I think now, if I can’t do this for myself, how could I have possibly done it for my dear friend at work who is now gone? In these moments I of course have self doubt about what I do and wonder aloud if its the right thing to do.

Well the truth is of course that we are all in process together. We use our good forces to do what we can to give a leg up to others when they need it, to give a little more of ourselves to someone who needs our support and love. I have seen the joy the accompanies the fear of taking a great stride forward and embracing the hope someone has for them self. This I learn from the people I work with each day and in truth this is what I try and replicate. Not just something I learn in class. Rather something I learn from them about  the act of keep on keeping for that day when hope overcomes fear.

Grad School Application Redux

2mza8b8Today I submitted my complete application for admissions to Simmons College Graduate School of Social work. Oh the agony! I am going out on a huge and precarious limb here by even letting people know that I’ve done this for I am convinced I will be rejected. My only solace is found in one friends assurance that if they do reject me he’ll cut ’em.

Dare to read more?