School for Social Work Celebrates 96th Graduating Class

Members of the SSW Class of 2013. This year's Commencement is set for August 15.

For the past few weeks, Kaitlin Smith has been trying to put into words the lessons she’s learned at the Smith College School for Social Work.

“I’ve been thinking about the challenges we’ve experienced and the strengths we’ve found in relationships,” said Smith, who is class speaker for this year’s graduating Master of Social Work (MSW) students.

A member of the school’s Anti-Racism Consultation Committee, Smith said her time in the MSW program has taught her to be receptive to change.

“No one really knows what will be demanded of us in the coming years as social workers,” she noted. “We need to remain open to new ways of engaging with other people.”

The school’s August 15 commencement ceremony will highlight both tradition and new beginnings. The SSW’s new dean, Marianne Yoshioka, will help present 132 masters of social work degrees and six doctoral degrees to this year’s graduating class—the 96th since the SSW was founded.

Yoshioka said she “could not be more delighted to be involved in an event that is part of a long and wonderful history.”

“Our graduates are well regarded across the nation and the world as strong, anti-racism clinical social workers of impeccable training,” Yoshioka said. “I am looking forward to celebrating all that they have accomplished through our program and the tremendous careers that lie ahead of them.”

The SSW is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its anti-racism mission.

Smith’s newly appointed provost and dean of faculty, Katherine Rowe, will also participate in Commencement, as will President Kathleen McCartney and Jennifer Waters, dean of religious life at Smith.

Also on the program for the event, which will be held in John M. Greene Hall:

• Keynote speaker AndreAs Neumann Mascis, psychologist and founder of The Meeting Point in Jamaica Plain, Mass., a resource and support center for the LGBT community, trauma survivors and people with disabilities.

• Tracye Polson, class speaker for this year’s doctoral students. With more than 18 years as a clinician and administrator, Polson has a practice serving young adults and families in north Florida. Polson, who has taught at Smith over two recent summers, sits on the advisory board of Teens Stand Together, a nonprofit aimed at eliminating teen bullying.

• Sekou Sylla of the Bamidele Dancers and Drummers and percussionist Jake Meginsky, who will perform the closing recession.

The SSW’s celebrations began August 11, with the school’s traditional baccalaureate at Helen Hills Hills Chapel—a student-run event that offers time for reflection and farewells through poetry and song.

The festivities continue with a program of student-created skits August 14 from 7 to 10 p.m. in John M. Greene Hall that organizers say are as likely to provoke tears as they are laughter.

Irene Rodriguez Martin, the SSW’s associate dean of administration, said her favorite part of that program is a slideshow by the school’s Council of Students of Color that lists the names of SSW graduates of color—beginning with the first in 1935.

“It’s a powerful piece,” said Rodriguez Martin. “First you see two or three names on the screen, then the names grow to two or three columns.”

Class speaker Smith said she was drawn to the SSW after studying cultural anthropology at Swarthmore College. “I felt disoriented by the academic, bird’s-eye view,” she said. “It seemed important to me to spend time learning about the internal experiences of people and to learn a practical skill set.”

Her time at the SSW has helped her come full circle Smith said: This fall, she begins a doctoral program in political science at the University of Chicago.

The theme of self-discovery is one she plans to share with classmates during her turn at the Commencement podium.

“What I found at Smith is that though I enjoy clinical work, my passion lies in teaching and research,” Smith said. “I’ve learned first-hand the value of being all of myself, no matter where I go or what pressures constrain that.”