YU Home
Wurzwelier School of Social Work RSS

Wurzweiler Graduates Fifty Five Masters of Social Work

Student speaker Sheldon Howard addresses the graduating class at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work 37th Annual Block Education Plan Commencement Exercises

On July 21st, 2014 Wurzweiler held its thirty seventh Commencement Exercises for the Summer Block Education Plan, in which fifty five students were conferred their MSW degrees. In addition to the Commencement Address by Dr. Joyce Brenner, the retiring Director of the Block Program in Israel, the students were inspired by their selected student speaker Sheldon Howard. Prior to graduation the graduating student body is given the opportunity elect any student to offer an address on their behalf at graduation.

Below is the text of this exceptional address by the graduating student, who was also the recipient of the Elaine Schott Advocacy Award, which is given to a graduating student  for promoting community initiative and social change. This address encapsulates the spirit of social work education and the commencement exercises and celebrates the accomplishments of the graduating students and the great and important work ahead of them as social work professionals.

Congratulations to all graduates, and to Sheldon Howard for his wonderful and entertaining words, shared here with his permission.

***

“OK…. So before I really get into what I want to say…

I have some news to share quickly…

… this is just in from the folks who produce the DSM ..

It looks like they’ve introduced a new condition…

It’s called…

POST-GRADUATE OK so which one is Adam 2 again?  SYNDROME…

It’s brought on by prolonged periods of stress…

…lack of sleep…

…and acute exposure to something called SSD for R. 

Whatever that is…

Symptoms include… a pervasive sense of panic… and you twitch every time you hear either one of these words… integrative or essay… 

Lastly – you’ve got that feeling you just want to go home already.

Well I don’t know about you but that’s how it feels to me…

…like we’ve just run a marathon… and a sprint at the same time…

A sprint-athon. Or a mara-thint.

But we are done. Finished. Graduation is termination.

And for me… this is about as good a way to go out as possible.

You’ve done me a great honour asking me to do this… And I’m very grateful…

I’m also very excited.

It’s hard to believe…

I mean it’s always been a dream of mine…

No…not speaking at graduation…. Not even being a Social Worker…

I’ve now got about five minutes to say pretty much whatever I want to a captive audience…regale you with stories about my family… my old neighbourhood… my dog… odd childhood experiences… 

…basically I have about five minutes to pretend I’m Professor Sweifach.

Which really wouldn’t be such a bad thing… to be like Professor Sweifach… or any of our professors… for that matter… who… each one in their way… has engraved the very best of their experience and knowledge … on each one of our new Social Worker selves… 

…and always with caring… and commitment… and a profound passion… for us and the work we now set out to do. 

On behalf of all those I am proud to call my classmates and colleagues… many many thanks to the Wurzweiler Faculty….  Administration… and Cheryl… you are the most miraculous one of all… Thank you… 

…and of course thanks to all the friends… family… loved ones… who supported us through all this. That could not have been easy. A very big and special thanks to all of you.

Now I know these few minutes I have to speak are not about me… I mean everyone I told about this… made it very clear… it’s not about you Shelly… but please indulge me in this little bit of self-disclosure.

Soooo…. I’m not 24. Oh – you knew that? OK never mind.

The point is… Social Work is not my first profession.

I worked in Journalism for a while…  

Telling stories is the focus of Journalism. Doing it dispassionately… a watch dog on governments… the first draft of history… and all that…

But where Journalism does its best to document what’s happening in the world… and hopes to make a difference…

Social Workers… are all about making a difference… being the difference…

Pursuing either profession will take you into some pretty dark places; into the shadows… 

…a reporter… armed with the power of the pen… Social Workers with the power of our professional values… our skills… our compassion… our courage… 

…we go into those dark places because that’s where there’s suffering… that’s where people are sad… oppressed and in pain… that’s where the vulnerable need a voice… where people who are hurting need a hand… where those most alone… most afraid…. most in need… they just want to hear that one person say… what is our job to say… what we commit to say…

That – It’s OK… I’m here… I’ve got your back….

When no one else does… I do. You do. We do.

That’s our job. We’re Social Workers.

And we can never know who we might find in those dark places… we might not understand their pain… or how they ended up feeling so isolated… rejected… lost… but here’s what we DO know… we know dark from light… we all crave the light… everyone deserves the dignity of knowing… I am seen… I am accepted for who I am… how I was created… like everyone else… B’tzelem elokeem… in god’s image… 

And that’s what we do. We help to bring light to those dark places… help people find their way back to themselves… That’s OUR job. That’s what we do. We’re Social Workers.

Now if you were looking for it… in our graduating group today… there is no doubt you COULD find difference. We are diverse. 

We are American. Canadian. Israeli. Religious. Secular. Jewish. Christian. Agnostic.

Some Older.

Almost everyone else much… much… younger.

Some of us are bald. 

Some have hair. 

Some have purple hair.

But the way I see it…with us… with all people…. we are much more the same than we are different. And that sameness is powerful… sticky… it binds us… and gives us something to make contact with… in every one of our clients… no matter who they are… or how they ended up in front of us…

Virginia Satir said we connect at the level of sameness… grow at the level of difference… So we Social Workers… we celebrate diversity… we can’t let it divide us…. We acknowledge and learn from the other… and walk together in search of more light.

And these days… there’s so much darkness… in parts of the world so many of us are so deeply connected to… it is very hard to see any light… to feel any feelings beyond pain… sadness… and frustration… anger… and fear… 

And I know I’m new at this… I haven’t even been a Social Worker for a day yet… so forgive my youthful innocence… (I was never able to shake it anyway)…. but whether it’s through prayer… or meditation… exercise… or shopping… however we do it… we need to take care of ourselves… to keep learning…growing… evolving… so we can still see something better on the horizon…

I had a great teacher who introduced me to the work of Paulo Freire who said – “If the structure does not permit dialogue – the structure must be changed” — that’s where we come in… we advocate for that change… for Social Justice… that’s our job. That’s what we do… We’re Social Workers.

A few years ago when I was saying kaddish for my Mother – who I miss every day… but especially today – I got familiar with several passages in the siddur – the Jewish prayer book – passages I didn’t know so well. One line has stayed with me and helped me in a lot of ways but also as a Social Worker… and I will end with this… the line is  – U’ve’tuvo mehadesh b’chol yom ma’aseh braysheet… in his (or her) goodness – God – however…whatever you understand god to be… god renews the act of creation every day. To me that means that… Every day matters… Every day there is hope. Every day things can get better…

And guess what?

We get to help do that now…

…you know why? 

That’s our job.

We’re Social Workers.

Congratulations everyone. 

Thanks.”