The Springfield College School of Social Work
Fall 2010 Convocation Featured Speakers
Weekday Convocation - Debra McGranaham
Welcome 1st year and returning Graduate students. I’m both honored and humbled to be standing here on this side of the podium today. I’d like to thank Dean Vechiolla for her invitation and the dedicated professors and support staff at SCSSW. They are truly committed to the success of each and every one of you.
I’d like to start by asking you to thank yourselves. Thank yourselves for this amazing gift you are giving to you. It may be an expensive gift certainly but it is a worthy one. If you tallied up your tuition expenses and looked at other ways you could spend that money, you’d afford weekly pedicures and manicures and massages and monthly cruises for yourself during the time you will take to earn your Masters. The Stafford loan folks wouldn’t approve so thankfully you have instead chosen to invest in the gift of knowledge. Not just frivolous knowledge but knowledge that is actionable. Knowledge that will change lives; your life, your family’s life and the lives of those you support as a social worker. Please take a moment to thank yourself.
When I began thinking about what I wanted to say today, I was reminded of an idea found in Zen Buddhism. It’s called Takuhatsu. Takhatsu translates to “when there is no separation between giver and receiver”. Isn’t that truly the essence of social work? Takhatsu is practiced by the monks who travel from the monasteries to the villages in order to give others the opportunity to give to them. Some may call it begging. The Buddhist belief however, is that the act of giving is always an opportunity to receive. By giving to others you are receiving as well. This is true for social work. We give of ourselves and our clients receive but in our giving they are in fact giving back to us--enriching us. It is a circle of spiritual interconnectedness.
Next I’d like to speak more specifically about the knowledge you will gain here. To do this I will use the Advanced Generalist Perspective. A term you will learn a lot about in your time here. It will not only make you marketable when you leave but it can also help you frame your way of thinking; as I have done today. You will hear about the micro, mezzo and macro levels of social work. You can use each one of these areas to either discover what you really care about as a social worker or if you already know where your passion lies, how to best put it into action.
The micro level is the interpersonal. Here you can discover who do I connect with? What group of people do I best relate to? What interventions and theories feel right to me? If you can answer these questions you can relate to your work. If you can relate to it you can internalize it. If you can internalize it you can share it.
On a mezzo level you can determine what environment do I thrive in? Where can I make a difference? What mission or philosophy can I bring my genuine self to? Ask yourself these questions. Use this time to explore.
On a macro level, what is a cause I feel passionate about? What do I believe in? What injustice can I no longer stand for? To borrow from Gandhi a bit; what change do I wish to see in the world?
You have a once in a lifetime opportunity in front of you. Put your whole self into it! If you do this inner exploring you will find so much meaning.
And now for the nuts and bolts, practical advice I will borrow from that wise sage, David Letterman. Here are the Top 10 ways to Survive SCSSW:
10. Be kind to Verna and all the support staff. They are truly the backbone of this program and deserve your respect.
9. Buy your books after classes start. I wish I hadn’t figured this one out until my final semester. The syllabus might change; the professor might change his or her mind. You will save money.
8. Always have money for the vending machine. After 4 hours of classes Cheetos never tasted so good.
7. Talk to your classmates. You will find amazing people with powerful stories. You will be proud to walk across the stage with them on graduation day. And you will miss them when they are gone.
6. Write your papers and presentations on topics that interest you. It shows.
5. Get to know your professors. They are a wealth of knowledge and experience and support.
4. Go the extra mile. Join student advisory or help out with a conference. It was one of my most memorable experiences here.
3. Be engaged in the classroom. Ask questions, give your opinion. It will enrich your experience and your classmates.
2. Challenge conventional thinking. Don’t take it all at face value. Your opinion is valid.
1. Write down your favorite quotes from professors. You’ll want to remember them. There are some pithy classics. My favorite was from Dr. Wronka who when describing Jane Addams, the matriarch of social work, stated, “Jane Addams was a bad ass. So go out there and be bad asses!”
I’d like to end with a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, the creator of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. “Someone once asked me what I regarded as the requirements for happiness. My answer was; a feeling that you have been honest with yourself and those around you, a feeling you’ve done your best in your personal life and work, and the ability to love others.”
I wish you all much happiness in your time here at SCSSW and beyond. Thank you so much!
Weekend Convocation - Mara Veronesi
Good Morning! By the time you graduate, you will probably hear Dr. Wronka quoting Martin Buber several times and I will paraphrase, “The day we can all look at one another and say good morning and mean it, is the day when we will bring peace to the world.” I am excited to be here to welcome you on this first day of class because I believe that we, as professional social workers, have a significant role to play in bringing peace and social justice to the world.
My experience here at Springfield College School of Social Work was transformative. The foundation with which I arrived through the doors of Brennan Center 3 years ago included 25 years worth of professional experience as an educator, fundraiser, and community organizer, as well as a graduate degree in theology. On a more personal note, my mother passed away not quite 3 months before school started. After caring for her during a brief illness, I moved into the role of caring for my dad as we adjusted to life without mom. My mother’s 3 weeks in the hospital and her passing had a tremendous impact on my experience as a social work student - ranging from getting over the sheer exhaustion and grief, to learning to use that experience to help others, to how I see myself in the world. In my very first year here at Brennan, I was working in a non-social work related job that paid the bills, but would not allow for internship hours during my 2nd and 3rd years.
Change in every life domain accompanied my decision to start and complete my MSW. Three years is a long time to be in school and lots of life happens in that three years - several of us lost loved ones, babies were born, weddings and break ups happened - I think it is important for social work students in this program to be grounded in an understanding that the events that happen in our lives are rich with meaning and help us to meet the needs of the people we serve. Looking back, I am delighted to tell you that everything happened exactly as I needed it to. After leaving my administrative job working for one of the Deans at UMass, a brief conversation with Dean Vecchiolla resulted in teaching and writing fellowships for my last two years. Dean Vecchiolla could not have been more supportive, and although I was still concerned about my personal finances, what I started to see was that there is always a way to figure things out. As social workers, we help clients to find new ways to look at old problems or stories and make changes in new directions. Learning to make changes in our own lives, reframing, seeing things in new ways, and reaching for new resources is a valuable part of our training.
Working as a writing tutor was one of my favorite roles during my time here. The Academic Success Center is a valuable resource that is available to all students. I encourage you to make use of their services whenever you have a writing question. At very least, have someone else read every paper you submit. Even excellent writers make mistakes. I, for example, submitted a research paper with a page that belonged to a completely different paper. Not a mistake I recommend repeating, although it taught me to be a little more humble and a lot more careful. That kind of mistake is easy to make when you are juggling all of the commitments and responsibilities that come with life in Social Work School. In my current position as an outpatient clinician with a caseload of over 40 clients, I am grateful for all I learned about how to manage writing and researching in a tight time frame. Every session requires specific documentation that has to be completed within 48 hours. Meeting deadlines for papers and projects was good practice.
There are unexpected blessings and lessons that will unfold as you progress through your time at Brennan and then into your first social work positions. I encourage you to pursue internships, papers, and projects that hold personal and professional passion for you. During my first internship, I had the good fortune to work with a supervisor who mentored me in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, especially as it is used in helping people with anger issues. We co-facilitated two Act for Anger Management groups. During my second internship, co-facilitating another Anger management group was a perfect fit. While working with the group, I taught my new co-facilitator a whole new approach to anger management. Since becoming an employee of the same agency, I have given the staff an in-service training on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, an evidence based practice. Now, I am the lead facilitator of the Anger Management group in the clinic.
A paper I wrote on a strength based practice for older adults living with hiv/aids has been tremendously helpful with the clients I serve whose lives have been affected by the disease. I chose the topic because I have been interested in caring for people living with hiv/aids since the epidemic began. At the time I wrote the paper, I had no way of knowing that my research would be the perfect preparation for my current clinical practice.
The Research 3 Project I completed focused on a personal passion that blends my avocation of clowning with social work practice. I interviewed 8 clowns who clown in hospital or nursing home settings. Their stories were rich with years of experience in caring for adults and children in hospital settings. Since clowning in the hospital is one of my favorite things to do, I enjoyed the entire project from start to finish, and I began to consider the possibility of a future career move that might have me in a social work position in a hospital setting. It is not where I want to be right now, but my goals and dreams continue to evolve and change. You will get the most out of your time here at Brennan if you use your personal interests to nurture you in your work, and if you make the most of every internship, paper, and project opportunity.
Every semester had its challenges. No one will tell you that completing this degree is easy. I can tell you that it is do-able, and that you can have some fun along the way. In Policy 3, my group of six people took on the cause of homelessness on global, national, and local levels. We used facebook as a way to bring attention to our concerns – feel free to check it out! All six of us worked on our own and then at key moments in the semester we came together in the same place – sharing food, stories, friendship, and our commitment to make this project something that will make a difference for people who are homeless. Four months after graduation, 4 of us are still involved in an extension of the project. Our time demands are different – but since homelessness has been around for a while, we are content with taking our time to plan strategies, connect with people, and advocate for more effective social justice policy especially as it relates to homelessness, and we are looking forward to building communities of practice around the issue of homelessness. Perhaps some of you will be interested in joining us?
If you are concerned that there is too much of Policy or too much of Research in the curriculum, remember that effective social work practice hinges on sound government and agency policy. Good research can determine the most effective interventions for you to use on behalf of the clients you serve. The clearer our policies are and the more rigorous our research is, the more credible we become as powerful social workers able to make change. This is a strength of the Advanced Generalist Program. Take advantage of it.
Finally, I would encourage you to develop an attitude of gratitude for all of the folks who are on this journey with you. You will hear professors tell you that your families and friends and co-workers are earning this degree right along with you. You will learn so much from your classmates about their stories and about how you engage with others whose stories may be similar or very different from your own. Our professors will guide you every step of the way. Listen to them, and pick up the nuggets they offer in every interaction. Every day I have reason to be thankful for something I learned in class and for the mentors and teachers who guided me along the way.
Here are a few of my favorite nuggets that have come in very handy:
Every interaction has the capacity to be a therapeutic interaction: it sounds obvious, but as a professional social worker, you will be called upon to create therapeutic interventions in many settings you may not expect. There are insurance representatives, other service providers, government representatives, and colleagues who will need your expertise in creating therapeutic interventions within the entire service providing system.
When you’re stuck, go concrete. It works every time. Ask another question. Do everything you can to try to understand what the client has experienced through his own words. You don’t have to work so hard that way, and the client gets to tell his story.
Leadership is action not position. Be a leader. Say “yes” to situations that challenge you to grow, including taking the initiative for good self care. Your clients and colleagues will learn from what they see you do.
Play is serious business. You will learn a lot by watching children play. If you are working with children or adolescents, or perhaps even elders, be willing to play with them. Remember how to play yourself. It’s fun! Match box cars can open the door to a whole new world!
Don’t demonize the other – whoever the other may be. It is easy to demonize the insurance company, the policy maker, the capitalist, or the person we consider to be closed minded. Demonizing the other wastes time and will prevent you from joining with other people and creating new solutions.
Is the purpose of discipline to teach or to punish? This question was rooted specifically in the family treatment course. It has obvious implications for work with families. It is also helpful to keep in mind in management/administrative issues. Ideally, all forms of discipline are to help us learn and grow.
What are you doing for self care? Take time for you. Notice the compassion satisfaction you glean from your work. Do things that bring you joy. Recharge your own battery whenever you can. Have fun! Let’s face it, burn out potential is huge. Making use of proper self care, developing a support system, and insisting on good supervision will help you to thrive for your entire career. What an adventure we are on!
Lastly, keep your door open and say hi to everyone. Work to create an inclusive environment that is welcoming and supportive. In doing this, you will help to create a sense of community and team that will make it possible to connect with others on meaningful levels and generate more exciting solutions. And, you may have more fun doing it!
As you look ahead to whatever this year will hold for you, I invite you to start with where you are now. Be aware of all of the blessings that are here for you. Get excited about all of the opportunities you will have to find your passion and pursue it. Joseph Campbell wrote “Follow your bliss, find where it is and don’t be afraid to follow it.” It is my hope that this academic year and your entire experience here at Brennan Center leads you on a joyful and richly rewarding path of personal and professional fulfillment. On this, your first day of class, I say “good morning” to you. May your journey to becoming a professional social worker be filled with moments of bliss and challenge, triumph and self discovery. May your efforts bring peace and social justice for all just a little closer.
Wishing you a wonderful year.