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Class of 2011 Convocation

Remarks from Jeremy Schwartz, Master's Student Representative

Dean Videka, Governor Paterson, Deputy Yu, faculty, staff, family members, friends, and fellow graduates:

Today we celebrate the achievements of the 51st graduating class of the Master of Social Work program. As social work students we have spent these past months or years learning about interventions at the individual, family, group, organization, and community levels aimed at ameliorating and solving social problems. While pursuing our studies we have worked in a wide range of agencies and organizations. In these settings we have taken part in the best and worst of our society -- our great potential to meet the needs of all people, and also the devastating human impact of failed social policies.

In our current sociopolitical climate, social workers are very much needed. As social workers we will have to advocate for programs and policies that support our work. As we pursue change, we will have to defend this change against opposition. We will have to fight for the resources to do what we do best: intervening through helping relationships. We will do this because social work is about building relationships, and relationships are our best tool in pursuing social justice.

There is a lot of potential in this room to effect change, and to do so we have to be creative and think outside the box. All of us here today can be advocates for systemic change. As social workers, our job descriptions will not necessarily tell us to do this, but we know its importance. We know how to empower individuals, and we also know that this is not enough. We have to empower communities as well.

In fighting for transformative justice we will have to be strategic. We will have to balance the need to dismantle oppressive systems with the need to find our power within them. This means making our agencies institutions of social change, and it involves dreaming big and doing the difficult and detailed work to make things happen.

As advocates for change, we have a unique perspective as social workers. We work directly with the most oppressed members of our society, those who are most impacted by structural forces that keep them on the margins.

We have learned that social work is a profession that is not only about supporting people to fit into a broken society; it is also about fixing the brokenness of our society to meet peoples’ needs. It’s important to remember that none of us individually will complete this work, but we all have an obligation to continue it.

The degrees we are receiving today represent a great deal of learning and accomplishment, and this is just the beginning. Let’s take what we’ve learned, apply it in everything we do, and keep learning, thinking, challenging, and pursuing social justice.