“Pursuing the mission, vision and values of this privileged and humble profession is critical to achieving a just and compassionate society.”

Athena Motal, PhD WSSW ’15


WSSW Commencement Athena MotalOn May 11th, 2015 Wurzweiler School of Social Work congratulated fifty MSW and PhD graduates as they completed their Wurzweiler experience and began their careers as professional social workers. At the Commencement Exercises, four student speakers summed up their perspectives on their student experiences and on social work in inspirational and impressive addresses, each of which evidences the nature of Wurzweiler’s exceptional alumni. One of those speakers, receiving her PhD in Social Welfare degree, was Athena Motal. Below is the content of the speech she delivered. Congratulations to all of the Spring, 2015 graduates!

Good morning President Joel, Provost Botman, Dean Docherty, Wurzweiler Board, Administration, Faculty, Family, Friends and Fellow Graduates.

It was 27 years ago when I graduated with my MSW and I vividly recall that I had no idea of what the future held for me in the social work profession.  My career began in psychiatric social work in a continuing day treatment program as a newly minted social worker trying to make sense of the world of someone with mental illness.  I quickly learned that I was still a student and was very humbled by the fact that my clients were teaching me.

I have dedicated the last 21 years of my career to hospital social work working my way through and up the ladder of growth where I am privileged to lead a social work department in a major NYC hospital.

My passion for hospital social work emerged through the small and large victories, tragedies and disappointments of my experiences with my patients and families who faced incredible challenges of serious illness. They became my greatest teachers and gave more to me than I could ever give to them.

Always aspiring to reach new heights and challenge myself, I came to the Wurzweiler doctoral program 7 years ago not to one day find the ideal job because I already had the ideal job that was a special responsibility.  As Dr. Linzer, Professor Emeritus, pointed out, that one of the goals of the doctoral program was how to be more effective in what I was already doing.   What was awakened inside of me was my passion for Ethics, which I owe to Dr. Linzer.  Ethics became so prominent that all of my experiences were elevated to a whole new level  of meaning and understanding.  This was a great discovery and was the catalyst and foundation for my dissertation.

Fellow graduates:

Whatever path you choose, serve your client with your heart and your mind and try to strike the balance between the two.  Not easy but experience is a great and wise gift. 

You are the anchor between your clients and policy to connect and link them to necessary services. 

It is a social worker who will ensure that an individual receives the proper care and treatment.

…Who will help the patient through the emotions of a diagnosis

…Provide psychosocial counseling for those struggling with severe and persistent mental illness

…Sensitize providers to the social and emotional impact of a client situation

…Secure necessary services to optimize bio-psychosocial functioning

…Connect individuals and families to shelter, food and clothing

…Petition the courts for guardianship to protect vulnerable populations who cannot care for themselves

…Protect the rights of special populations

…Help clients and families across the lifespan who are facing acute and chronic illness involving limited life expectancy, dying, anticipatory grief and bereavement.

…Provide expertise and skill in palliative and end of life care.

…Protect and safeguard victims of child abuse, elder abuse and domestic violence from volatile and dangerous situations.

…Properly identify our veterans so they do not slip under the radar and ensure that they receive the care and treatment they deserve.

It was once said that the test of any society is how well it cares for our children in the dawn of life, the elderly who are in the twilight of their life and the sick, the needy and the handicapped in the shadows of their life.

Your journey for lifelong learning is only beginning.  Embrace it…never stop learning no matter how difficult the road is.  Pursuing the mission, vision and values of this privileged and humble profession is critical to achieve a just and compassionate society.

In closing I would like to extend my gratitude to the Wurzweiler faculty for their exceptional leadership, support and guidance throughout my experience and to my wonderful family that helped carry me through to this accomplishment.

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