Graduation Speech

It’s been a busy week leading up to graduation here at the University where I work. This year, I have served as an academic program director and as such, I was given five minutes at the microphone, as well as the opportunity to announce our graduates. Give me a podium and a microphone, and words will follow.

I thought, perhaps, I would post my graduation reflections here for public consumption as well…

Did you ever notice the rainbow parade of academic regalia worn by University faculty?? We have faculty members showcasing the blue with black chevrons from the University of Michigan and looking snazzy in scarlet from Arizona State. In case you didn’t notice, we have three of us…like a shamrock…sporting the emerald green of Washington University in St. Louis. The hues range from the powder blue robe of Columbia, to “Duke Blue” to the deep blue velvet that demarcates the PhD. Even those whose academic garb reflects the traditional black robe along with the deep blue velvet of the Doctor of Philosophy still have a unique identity. On closer inspection, each person’s academic regalia…those of us on this platform as well as those of you we are recognizing today…is accented by the color designating our profession along with the specific colors of our various schools. These identity labels may appear on the lining of a hood, or the stripes of a sleeve, or the markings on a tassel. Each scholar on this stage is unique, but we share commonalities, too.

In case you are wondering, we don’t have the opportunity to pick out this academic attire we wear as if we’re buying a new outfit or spiffing up for a big date. As many of you have discovered, our originality is often limited to our footwear, the infamous “shoes of graduation.”

The diversity of our academic wardrobe is defined largely by the degree program in which we studied, and the schools in which we were trained. So, what we wear reflects an aspect of who we are. Of course, these outward appearances don’t really reflect the wholeness of our personhood. Our outward diversity of pedigree is impacted by other kinds of diversity, too…perhaps where we lived or what we wanted to study, where others in our family had studied, who would give us a scholarship, or where we felt that we could be most successful. And, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that for every person here, there are many more potential scholars out there for whom the barriers imposed by individual lives, families or social systems have kept them from taking this step. In this past year as PhD Program Director, I have listened to those stories, too. Many times during my academic career, I’ve had to come face to face with poignant reminders of the grace, the privilege, the luck and the hard work that came together to allow me to be the one standing here, talking to you.

The PhD graduates I’m about to introduce to you are also unique individuals that span a diverse range of interests and experiences. But, collectively, we celebrate them today. Each one can probably also attest to the amazing amount of work, support, and serendipity that has brought them together in this place, on this day. Because they have been a part of our PhD Program, they also have a common story. Our collective story involves creating community, diversity of thought, and embracing intellectual curiosity along with cultural humility. Our collective story is created in our encounters inside and outside the classroom and in the ways in which we strive to create scholars who impact the real work of social work practice, policy, and education by connecting scholarship and community. My hope is that every time from here on out, when our graduates dress up in their academic regalia, they will also wear a reminder of how their individual journeys are also part of a collective journey here in the PhD Program at VCU. That’s how it is with diversity…it becomes the fabric of our common, human experience.

So, I now have the privilege to introduce you to the five newest Social Work PhD Scholars we welcome and celebrate today. These incredible human beings are unique and diverse in their contributions, even if they appear similar in their outer wardrobes. Just like the “shoes of graduation” where your personal style shine through, our PhD graduates build on their collective identity with the sparks of unique contribution that make each of them stand out. You all have learned…in every program here at VCU…to celebrate and embrace the unique differences from which we learn, grow, and gain new insight into our collective human experience. So, let me tell you a few individual stories of these five amazing scholars we celebrate today who are invested in creating meaningful change and embracing our diverse human experience. And collectively, they are changing the world through scholarship and research.

To each and every one of you: embrace diversity in all its forms. Celebrate the privilege of being exactly who you are, exactly where you are at this present moment. And know that wherever you travel and wherever your vocation leads you, there is always an opportunity to make a difference.

In honor of the VCU School of Social Work PhD Graduates of 2014

About harasprice

Social worker, professor, seminarian in The Episcopal Church, student, parent, teacher, writer, advocate, and grateful traveller along this journey through life
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