Spring 2014 Common Day

As a student in the extended MSW program, I've eagerly awaited Common Day for nearly two years. A mandatory day of educationally enriching seminars from a diverse group of practitioners greatly appealed to my inner nerd (and a "required" day off from the rigors of my field placement didn't hurt, either). When Common Day for the first-year MSW students finally arrived on Monday, March 3, I rushed out of my apartment in Brooklyn (ahead of time, for once), and found a seat near the front of the auditorium in the Kimmel Center with 10 minutes to spare. I spun around in my chair to take in the scene behind me: a veritable sea of social work students filled the auditorium, comprising a small army of idealistic, motivated service agents. I'd had no idea there were so many of us!

The festivities were launched with a keynote address by Phil Coltoff, the Katherine W. and Howard Aibel Visiting Professor and Executive-in-Residence and a McSilver faculty fellow. Coltoff, who led the Children's Aid Society from 1980 until 2005, gave an impassioned speech on the importance of fostering leaders out of social work students. He urged students to abandon the false dichotomy of "I'm a clinician, not a leader," and to recognize the two as a harmonious marriage. Clinicians, with their boots on the ground, "can change the field," Coltoff appealed. "Practice is a driver in changing policy." I have been guilty of subscribing to this false dichotomy in the past, and from the close vantage of my third-row seat, I imagined that the heat of Coltoff's gaze was pointed directly at me as he urged us all to see ourselves as "movers and shakers."

Following Coltoff's keynote, some friends and I stayed in the large auditorium for Sam Levy's presentation on integrating imagery, which presented an overview of mindfulness strategies. Hunger set in at noon, and when lunch break commenced, my friends and I assessed the morning's seminars over burrito bowls, and debated which afternoon sessions to attend. Most of us settled on a presentation by two art therapists.

By the end of the afternoon, my brain swirled with new bits of information sparring for priority: "Become a leader!" "Set an intention each morning and take a moment for gratitude each evening!" "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift!" "When our basic needs are met, we are compelled towards personal creative expression!" "Can I incorporate art therapy into my work with clients at field?" I felt simultaneously charged and exhausted, and in definite need of more coffee. As I filed back into the auditorium and took a seat (fourth row, this time) for the day's final presentation, I glanced behind me. The auditorium's seats were again filled with social work students, pens in hand, poised to take in new insights and information. I think perhaps this motif, more than any knowledge gleaned from seminars, is the most important element of Common Day. It is an opportunity for social work students to come together in a forum and view our collective might. There is a tremendous power in our numbers, and a great potential for change if we channel our common interests. And that sounds an awful lot like leadership to me.