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Remarks from Mara Gottlieb, Doctoral Student Representative

Class of 2014 Convocation

Good afternoon, Dean Videka, Dr. Ramos, Trustee Silver, distinguished guests, and the class of 2014. It is an honor and a privilege to be standing here, representing the PhD graduates.

Before I begin, there are a number of people from the NYU community whom I wish to thank for their support. I’d first like to thank Assistant Dean Courtney O’Mealley and Dr. Dina Rosenfeld for their belief in my abilities to be instrumental in anti-oppressive social work: their support allowed me to enter the profession of teaching, which has become one of my greatest sources of meaning, purpose, and joy.

I also want to deeply thank my dissertation committee: Dr. Shibusawa, Dean Videka, and Dr. Grodney for believing that my topic was worthy of research, and for helping me bring my work to a level of quality and rigor that I could not have reached on my own.

I began my doctoral journey in 2005. A lot can happen in eight years – think about it for a second: where were you in September of 2005? Where were you living? Who were you with? I had just returned from three weeks volunteering at a big cat sanctuary in Tennessee, working with rescued and confiscated tigers, lions, cougars – you name it. I went because I was at a crossroads: I’d been accepted to the NYU Silver PhD program, and the only other work I’d ever wanted to do besides some form of social justice was to care for big cats. I figured that before making as enormous a commitment as a PhD program, I should probably find out if working with animals was a better fit for me than working with people had been.

You see, humans, in my opinion, are a messy, complicated species: one I hadn’t had such great success with up to that point. Cats, on the other hand, are pretty straightforward: they trust you or they don’t, they like you or they don’t, and either way, you know where you stand. But after only three weeks, I realized with some resignation that cats were just not my people, and I started the doctoral program that fall.

As I became better acquainted with social work research, theory, and practice through coursework and teaching, I saw that, unlike any other field, social workers are compelled to see humans not just for who we are, but for how our identity has been shaped by our environment and social interactions. Hurt people sometimes hurt people. A person may find it difficult to offer what they have never experienced. We cannot aspire to what hasn’t been modeled for us. And it is we as social workers who can offer both that compassionate perspective, and the first glimpses of what might previously have been beyond imagining. Oftentimes, we need someone else to show us what we cannot envision ourselves.

My dissertation explored the impact of self-compassion on a person’s ability to be self-aware, and to work with clients of differing cultures. The data was unequivocal: higher self-compassion is related to both greater self-awareness and improved cultural competence. The more we can see the messy, awkward aspects of ourselves as a symptom of being human, the more likely we are to face all of who we are, honestly and without judgment, and the more likely we are to meet others with that same equanimity. I believe it is this safe, non-judgmental environment that allows each of us to heal and grow.

Part of this journey for me has been accepting that I carry both privileged and marginalized identities. I am light-skinned, young-looking, temporarily able-bodied, and arguably over-educated. I can pass for straight if I choose to. But I am also a lesbian, a woman with no children, someone raised in a family that was far more concerned with outer appearances than inner harmony. These past eight years have coaxed me to face myself with honesty and compassion, and to find a community of people who see all of who I am and love me anyway, which has made me a better wife, a better friend, and a better teacher. Eight years ago, I had no idea this journey would take me here: to this podium, this speech, or this brave and long-awaited achievement.

Today, I find I am the happiest I have ever been, as well as the most hopeful and grateful. And I believe in the social work profession more than ever: each of us graduating today has the potential to heal, to grow beyond anything we could have imagined for ourselves, and in so doing, help others heal and grow as well. We cannot know what life will throw at us next. But thanks to the education we’ve received—and hopefully to a community of family, friends, and mentors that pick us up and cheer us on—we have a much better shot at a life where what we do and what we love are one and the same. Congratulations to all the graduates of the Silver School of Social Work, class of 2014. Thank you.

It is now my pleasure and honor to introduce Dr. Vincent Guilamo Ramos, Director of the Doctoral Program.

Type: Article

Mara Gottlieb