The faculty, students, staff, friends and family of the Wurzweiler School of Social Work gathered online on Tuesday, May 25, 2021, to celebrate the awarding of certificates, master’s degrees and doctorates. Dr. Danielle Wozniak, Dorothy and David I. Schachne Dean and vice provost, began the festivities by welcoming the graduates to “a future in which you will play an even more central role within the social work community, and I look forward to welcoming you to be a part of our alumni network.”
In the course of the celebration, 29 faculty members; Julia Kagan Baumann, chair of the Wurzweiler board of overseers; and three student speakers praised the graduating class for their resilience, their graciousness and their expansive empathy as they worked to better the lives of people in need of support and compassion during a time of great darkness.
Esther Entin, a student speaker earning her MSW, summarized this feeling well when she spoke about how she and her fellow students conceived of their mission as social workers as being “the candle that helps others have more light in their lives and the world be a brighter safer place….[As] candle lighters in dark places, we must illuminate the darkness, allowing our clients to see all possibilities, the value and potential in themselves and their universes. Our paths are so interconnected that often the light shone on one of these social work paths will provide enough guidance and warmth to enable our client traveler to see their way on another bright safe road. The little light at the right point makes an enormous difference.”
Dr. Wozniak echoed that call for illumination in her remarks as she welcomed the graduates into the community of Wurzweiler social workers. “You are called not just to be excellent clinicians working with individuals and families to repair the fabric of relationships,” she said, “but also called to be social justice warriors, working with groups and communities to repair the broken systems that regulate our lives. Your legacy in the field will be one of hope and transformation. As you move from students to professionals, know that a nation turns its weary eyes to you for comfort, for help, healing and perhaps above all for hope that things can and will be different going forward.”
Dr. Wozniak then called upon Dr. Ari Berman, President of Yeshiva University, to honor her request that the candidates be awarded their degrees, which he did with great enthusiasm and delight.
In his remarks to the graduates, Dr. Berman declared that “the University is proud of its values-driven education. At the core of our values is a belief in your individual talents and your capacity to lead lives of enormous impact. Education is not just a window into the world, but it’s a light unto your soul….At Yeshiva University, we aim to inspire you to bring your gifts into the world to change the world, to move it forward for the betterment of your community and all of humanity.”
Charmain Farrar, a student speaker earning her MSW, called her fellows to an even higher purpose than lighting the way forward that Esther Entin spoke about. She likened the work they were doing to what it took David, “a young shepherd boy who faced adversity,” to get through “a stretch of hard times before he was able to take his rightful place as king.” But once he learned what he could from the hard life he had to live, he took up the stones he had gathered along the way—that is, those things that he had learned from experience—and “he defeated the giant mountain in front of him named Goliath” and went on to become a great warrior king.
“I say to you today my fellow graduates, today marks a milestone in your lives. A turning point. Today, you go from being students to being royal warriors. You have been anointed and chosen to go through one of the toughest times in history—COVID-19, the pandemic, the shutdown are all Goliaths in our time. You have been anointed and appointed for such a time as this. There is something about you—a strength, a talent, a skill—that makes you equipped to be the perfect person for the work ahead. Take these stones of experience and resilience and look Goliath in the face and say, Do you know who I am? I have been chosen for this moment. I have been equipped for this moment. I am a royal warrior. I am anointed and appointed.”
Dr. Wozniak ended the hour-long ceremony with these words: “Members of the Class of 2021, you are now graduates of the Wurzweiler School of Social Work. We are proud of your accomplishments. We are confident in your skills, dedication and courage. We wish you the very best in your careers. Congratulations, and mazel tov!”