May 18, 2020 at 5:24 p.m.

Sharing a Message for the CSSW Class of 2020

Dear CSSW Class of 2020,

It’s my great honor to extend my heartfelt best wishes to you as you approach commencement day – congratulations! You are soon to be the newest graduates of the oldest school of social work in the country. Your class is a very special one, as you have weathered an incredible tempest with grace and resilience. You overcame unexpected and formidable challenges and have emerged stronger than you thought possible. That’s critically important now more than ever, as we continue to face the challenges of COVID-19, and the terrible toll it is taking on the most vulnerable in our society. I am greatly encouraged knowing that you will approach your post-Columbia lives with knowledge and skills that are perfectly designed for just this moment. You are ready to create long-lasting change.

I have always been struck by the word “commencement” – signaling a beginning, not an end. You are beginning new paths to social justice. I know that you will take all your experiences from the classroom and practicum to promote equity, ensure fair access to opportunity, challenge racism and oppression in all its forms, and build a world in which all people can reach their full potential. These are not just “high flying” words – they are the essence of the social work mission. I am grateful that you have pursued this mission with great vigor and resolve. The path ahead will not be easy. Confucius is said to have offered the following thought: “To see right and not to do it is cowardice.” Among you there is no cowardice. There may be fear, and that’s okay; it’s only human to be a bit uneasy in the face of great challenges. But your courage, tenacity, and dedication will sustain you through any storm. I know you can do it because you have already done it – the proof is in the past semester.

As I noted during orientation this year, our students come to social work because of their innate, deep compassion for others. But compassion alone is not enough. The very real skills you have acquired during your studies will enable you to act on that compassion and effect significant change. You are amazing and I cannot wait to see all you will achieve. A better society is within our grasp. It’s time.

With warmest regards,