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Aug. 18, 2008

Commencement Speaker Focuses on Community

Ann Marie Garran, longtime adjunct associate professor in the School for Social Work, addressed 106 graduate students during the school’s 88th ceremony Friday, Aug. 15, before receiving her doctoral degree. The following is an excerpt of her speech to the Class of 2008: received your letter of acceptance from Smith, you accepted membership into the many facets of this community, a community of learning and caring, of friendship and of conflict, of crying and kvetching, and a community with a pretty good softball team from what I hear. And as you have come to learn, as members of this culturally responsive, anti-racism-missioned, psychodynamically-oriented, relationally-based, post-modern community, we now embody the important connecting, scholarship and activism that vitalize clinical social work to serve a wide range of clients who are struggling with injuries to their mental health...

Ann Marie Garran

As you leave Smith, I urge you to think about which parts of this community were important to you. Which aspects will you take with you?  How will you share what you have gained in this community with the rest of your world? What kind of community do you want to see, for both you and your clients?  How can you make a difference in facilitating change and growth with our clients who are deeply affected by their mental health vulnerabilities while also affirming their resilience? I implore you to think about the answers now – before another 9/11 strikes, before our lack of organized and reasoned responses to the next Hurricane Katrina allows more communities to be annihilated, before we stand by passively and observe how individuals inflict bigoted and racist assaults on others based on differences in race, socioeconomic status, sexual identity and disability – the very people we are called to help.

Ask yourselves: What do people need to do to create cohesive, responsible, inclusive communities?  How do we create respect for one another? How do we translate this knowledge into a larger context, once we leave the Grecourt Gates? I leave you with these five points – things I have thought about that perhaps can launch you toward building a solid community as you leave here:

  • Continue to find ways to create and support spaces that affirm and allow for a complexity of individuals. Just think – we have become a country that appreciates complex identity enough for someone of both Kenyan and Irish descent to run for President. The ability to accept identity complexity is something that our country has historically struggled with. But it is also a shift that represents a strength of this country – and a worthy ongoing challenge.

  • Use your passion as a social justice advocate to be active in your community. The best example I can think of currently is this – VOTE! Encourage people to vote, and support efforts to make sure that the Voting Rights Act is upheld and enforced. Think about what is at stake with elections at every level. Which candidates stand for what we believe as social workers, affirming our positions on race, gender, sexual orientation, religious persecution and disability awareness? There are thousands of social workers in the United States alone. Can you imagine the force we would represent if we were all politically active?
  • Find ways to express yourself that contribute to the public discourse. Write letters. Organize peaceful rallies. Present at conferences. Engage in more training and consultation to strengthen your clinical skills to address mental health issues. Express your personal and professional opinions, so that you are making a contribution to social work through social justice advocacy and through culturally responsive clinical practice.  Empower other people to become activists. Help to render the invisible visible. Expand people’s knowledge of community and of the privileges and responsibilities that come with being a part of one.

  • Use the excellent skills and education you have gained here at Smith to continue to find ways to forge strong, empathic, caring relationships. I urge you to seek relationships with people who will take you out of your comfort zone. These relationships can be very rewarding and can lead to a more nuanced community.

  • Find ways to nurture and feed one another in your professional and personal lives. Find your niche. And then use your strong clinical skills to help others to find theirs.

With the doctoral degree that I am receiving, I become the second doctor in a very large extended family of passionate, loving, complex, and gifted people. While the diploma I will soon receive bears my name and is something that I will hold dear for the rest of my life, it is not solely mine. This doctorate comes with the knowledge that many, many people in my family have withstood and survived the viciousness of racial discrimination and the humiliating, dehumanizing effects of poverty in hopes that their children and grandchildren, my generation, would not have to endure these hideous cruelties. All of these fine, hard working, loving people always encouraged me to read more, study harder, and pursue higher education - a privilege that was out of reach and beyond the realm of possibility for most of them.

One percent of the United States population has received a doctorate. Only 6/100ths of 1 percent of the United States population are African Americans who hold a doctoral degree. Four hundredths of one percent of the United States population are Latinos or Latinas who have earned a doctorate. I stand here today as a proud black and Puerto Rican woman who today has earned membership to that group. This accomplishment has become a tremendous part of my legacy. I carry the responsibility of this legacy with pride. Today you who graduate are joining a long line of social and mental health reformers and you also now represent a strong tradition of Smith alums. The need for our services is enormous. The education you carry with you today is well suited to meet those varied needs. I invite each of you to discover your legacy, to embrace it, and share it with your community.

Thank you.


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