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Remarks from Rachel Copeland, Doctoral Student Representative

Class of 2015 Convocation

Good afternoon Dean Videka, Dr. Guilamo-Ramos, esteemed faculty, fellow graduates, and guests. It is an honor to speak here today, representing the doctoral class of 2015.

I moved to New York City five years ago from Birmingham, Alabama, where I had been a social worker for eight years. I chose NYU for my PhD program because I wanted to experience social work in one of the most dynamic and progressive cities in the world while having access to accomplished and brilliant professors.

My dissertation research focused on poor women in Costa Rica who had an unintended pregnancy in adolescence. I focused on support as an important variable, and found that the women’s experiences, challenges, and successes as adolescent mothers varied most importantly by support. Little did I realize as I executed this research just how important support was in my own life in addition to the lives of those we touch in social work.

One key to a successful doctoral program is the support of the social work faculty for its students. I had the great privilege to have been mentored and supported by my dissertation chair, Dr. Liliana Goldín, who inspired me to undertake international research. Thank you for believing in me when I did not believe in myself. Additionally, thank you to Drs. Jaccard and Munson, my committee members who helped me to formulate and execute my research with rigor and quality. On a more personal level, I would not have been successful in this program without the support of my husband Chris.

In a similar manner, we, as the graduating class of 2015, will now be supporting others through social work. Whether you are a BS providing case management, an MSW working with individuals and families, or a PhD teaching students and researching to advance the profession, your support is invaluable. As social workers, we support the people who allow us to walk alongside them through their trials by seeing the inherent human dignity in everyone, regardless of wealth, power, poverty, race, gender, or education. When we recognize that everyone we meet is a fellow bearer of dignity, we are able to truly engage our clients and meet them in their struggles with compassion, kindness, and understanding. As social workers, we will walk with clients as they struggle with the expectations of societal and familial norms, the weight and consequences of overwhelming situations, and crises of existential stress. During these times, we can most support our clients by remembering that what bonds us is our humanity, and just as we have received tremendous support from our family and friends, the greatest gift we can give another person is to help and support them with both humility and confidence.

As social workers, we humbly remember that except for some advantages or privileges along the way that are reflected in the reality that we have been able to complete our educations at an institution like NYU, except for those often random advantages, we are no different than those we serve. We will use this education to benefit others, because we are equipped with understanding and expertise to enable others to grow and flourish.

As we move forward after today, some of you will be working in large organizations, some in small non-profits, and some as professors in universities. Regardless of where you journey from here, I hope you will remember the investment of those who have supported you through this process as you support others. I look forward to my new social work career as an assistant professor, back in my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, and I will always remember the support and guidance of the social work faculty as well as the support of my community of fellow doctoral students, friends, and family. Thank you, and congratulations to the Silver School of Social Work Class of 2015.

It is now my pleasure to introduce to you Dr. Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, director of the doctoral program. 

Type: Article

Rachel Copeland