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Class of 2011 Convocation

Remarks from Benjamin Henwood, Doctoral Student Representative

It is nice to be here with all you today and an honor to have the chance to say a few words to a crowd full of accomplished social workers, especially since I didn’t always know I wanted to be a social worker. I don’t know if any of you can tell just by looking at me, but before social work I spent time trading stocks on Wall Street… I don’t know, maybe you can tell just by looking at me. After all I sat in a room full of people that looked very similar to me, and while plenty of money was being made, it didn’t seem to me that what we were doing was contributing to social justice, which is part of what brought me to social work.

I know that we each have our own narratives of how we got to be here today. For me, I came to NYU School of Social Work 10 years ago to begin the MSW program and to find meaning. Today, I have a career and am dedicated to advancing understanding and ultimately to ending homelessness for individuals with psychiatric disabilities and in that process show that people can and do recover – from mental illness, addiction, and poverty.

As a researcher and a scholar, my career is an intellectual one – yet grounded in real world issues that need our attention. NYU has proven to be a great environment from which to promote social justice, and I have many people to thank for making this a successful and meaningful career, not least of who is my mentor, Dr. Deborah Padgett, and my family, who has joined me here today.

So part of my narrative is of an initial commitment to social justice that has grown stronger, and now I am fully invested, with a degree to prove it. Today, as each of us think about our own narratives and celebrate our accomplishments, it is worth reflecting on how those initial commitments that we’ve made to ourselves, to the ones we love, and to the communities we live in play out over time. Those commitments are not single decisions but are continually tested over time. It is not a given that they hold up; they must be properly tended to not as a burden but as a welcomed choice.

As we graduate and start a new journey, it will take sustained efforts to honor our commitments, and support those of our neighbors. This is the challenge, opportunity, and work we have before us. This is a great place to be. So welcome, congratulations, and enjoy.