My address to the University of Oklahoma, Zarrow School of Social Work Graduating Class of 2014

graduation

Ever since I heard the practical advice to always wear sunscreen, that youth holds a beauty and power incomprehensible to its possessor, and that inside every adult there lurks a speech dying to get out, I have wanted to address a group of graduates in a public forum. Thanks to the support of my friends and colleagues of the 2014 Zarrow School of Social Work, that dream becomes a reality today.

 

In preparation I researched famous valedictories. I wanted to see what others had already said. So, I could offer something unique. I put together an outline, poured it in to a word document, and sought to fashion something that would honor you all. It is my sincerest hope that inspiration may be found in the following words. At the very least I hope that no one gets up and leaves in the middle of this.

 

I remember the first time I read the Preamble of the NASW Code of Ethics, “The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty.” I felt a kinship with these words. I wanted to immediately imprint them upon my heart, live in to them. I quickly discovered that I was surrounded by colleagues that also found comfort in these words. We all aspired to be agents of change. We are people of deeply held conviction that stand against power and speak truth to it. We are people with an enthusiasm for equality. We are people with hearts that embrace human tragedy with compassion. We are people consumed with a responsibility to those caught in the machine of systemic exploitation.

 

We began as helpers-in-training and over the course of the past few years we have been fashioned in to vessels that promote social justice and social change. Our will has taken on the will of our clients as we advocate for equity and seek to eradicate injustice. Our hearts bear the hopes of those we serve as we seek to affirm the dignity and humanity of all. Our guiding light is the ethical code to which we are tethered.

 

We all have arrived at the same port by different ships. Ships that bear the scars of the past and hold the treasures of our future. A journey that brought us here at this time, with each other. A time of transition for this institution and for ourselves. A journey that has shaped and fashioned the hopes and dreams that we ponder today. A journey with realized potential and life-long memories.

 

That journey ends today, and another one begins. We have persevered through doubt, fear, and material obstacles to arrive here at the expiration of our time as graduate students. The dynamic and diverse paths that deliver us to this place and have compelled us to dedicate our lives to securing good for those in which good is not so readily available. We have been equipped and are being sent from here out into the world to challenge injustice, to write history, and to walk alongside the marginalized towards self-efficacy and hope.

 

We depart from here ready to advance change in a manner that propagates real and permanent good. We dare to dream dreams of peace, tranquility, and a hospitality that shades the oppressed and marginalized. We are not special, nor so different from others. What sets us apart is that we ask ourselves, “What can we do for others? How can we do it with integrity and competence.” We strive to enhance the capacity of others to address their own needs. We advocate for response to the needs of others, believing in the importance of human relationships. Friends, Where peace is desired, there we shall be. Where hunger is alive, there we shall be. Where justice is threatened, there we shall be. Where equality is abhorred, there we shall be.

 

We embody the delicate work of change as illustrated by the philosopher Jane Addams who said, “Social advance depends as much upon the process through which it is secured as upon the result itself.” We are those that reject the comfort and convenience of silence for the uncomfortable action of speaking up in times of controversy and challenge power. We govern our actions not by political power, or popularity but by the conviction that all of humanity demands dignity. We shall not shy away from truth. Trusting that truth will shape and guide our work and adherence to our ethical foundation.

 

Having learned to crawl, then walk, we shall now run, along the paths that guide us away from here, forward towards the calling of justice and compassion that bear the name of Social Worker. We shall not sleep through the revolution. We shall not despair at the hard work ahead. We shall trust in the bottomless vitality present in each one of us. Knowing that the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice. Our destiny has been woven in that moral arc of justice. When we are tired, overwhelmed, and discouraged we shall return here to this day and remember, renew, and rest in the shared memories of our time here with each other.

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