Student speaker: School of Social Work
Good evening. It is an honor and a privilege to stand before you tonight and deliver the 2013 student Commencement speech.
Welcome family, friends and alumni.
I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the Loyola faculty, administration, and especially my fellow students graduating tonight with a degree in Social Work.
As I reflect back on the last two years, I recall sitting at my orientation soaking it all in—what the expectations were of me and what I could expect. Professors and administrators introduced themselves, their interests, and the work that they’ve done. And I furiously wrote down all of the possibilities in the field of social work. You see, like many of you, I wanted to do it all and I wanted to start immediately.
After I graduated from undergrad with my degree in English Literature and little sense of direction in my career, I participated in a full-time volunteer program called the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Through my work as a teacher on a reservation in northeastern Washington and at a family emergency shelter in Phoenix, Arizona, I witnessed firsthand the extreme difficulties that we as Americans face—learning disabilities, homelessness, poverty, substance abuse, mental illness, domestic violence, and the list continues.
It is easy to become paralyzed by what may seem like insurmountable problems in our communities. The other option, though much more difficult, proved to be more appealing: I, and all of the graduates who sit before you today, have chosen transformation over paralysis. We have chosen to work to transform the world in which we live and to be continuously transformed by that work and the people we encounter.
I decided to become a social worker and am here before you today because I believe wholeheartedly in transformation—I actually have terrible stage fright and tonight have transformed into the person who would stand before hundreds of people to deliver a commencement speech.
Throughout our education at Loyola, with the guidance of teachers, internship supervisors, and fellow graduates, we learned about the needs of various communities and identified and honed our skills in addressing those needs. Now, as we move out of the classroom and into the office, leave our internships and become employed full-time, some of you, like me, will continue to work with low-income families and children, and others of you will work with other vulnerable populations to help empower them on their path to stability and self-sufficiency. But our work will not be finished with individuals and families who enter our offices; we will continue our work beyond those four walls. Just as people change, grow and transform, our systems also need to be transformed. When every second-grader who enters your office complains of being bullied or when a family reports gun violence in their neighborhood, there is work to be done on the community level. Communities can and should transform as well.
But, as I’ve mentioned, transformation isn’t easy. Having done most of my work with children, you’ll have to bear with me through this metaphor. I am reminded of the famous children’s book “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle. In this book, the caterpillar eats and eats and eats, for a week straight, eating more each day than the one before. He ate so much that he gave himself a stomach ache. Then he had to build himself a cocoon where he stayed all alone for two full weeks. But after that pain, work, isolation and time, he emerges a beautiful butterfly with a story to tell. Don’t worry; I’ll spare you the art activity that comes along with the metaphor.
The point is, we will work hard, we will grow weary, and we might even become discouraged. These are the growing pains. This is when we remind ourselves of the beauty and the wholeness of transformation. This is when we remember that we cannot do it all, but that we can do something. This is when we embrace transformation in our own lives as we are challenged by our work. We continue to work and to keep our eyes open for the butterflies—the signs of transformation all around us.
Today is a day full of butterflies. We have much to be proud of and to celebrate. So it is with pride that I congratulate you, my fellow graduates for your hard work and accomplishments and the family and friends that supported us all through the process. May we all continue to embrace transformation in our own lives and to seek it in our communities.