Dr. Donna Riley: Reflections and Thoughts for the Class of 2020

A Message to the Class of 2020 from Dr. Donna B. Riley:

While you have completed your formally learning how to be effective social workers, the truth is that you've spent two years truly learning how to be more of ourselves. I firmly believe that social workers aren't made in college, they're made through life experiences. We became social workers when we lost that close relative, but despite our pain, we still had to comfort and take care of our loved ones. We became social workers when we witnessed poverty firsthand and found the resources to help ourselves and others in need. We became social workers when we realized that there was something different about our approach to problems and the ills of society. While other majors see our sensitivity as a weakness, we use it as a strength. We became social workers far before we knew what college we were going to, or even that there would be a major to fit our passions so closely. And we have those in our audience to thank for helping us get here. Just to be clear, families and friends, while we appreciate your support in our college endeavors, it wasn't that support that drove us to social work. It was that time you complained for hours, and we sat patiently listening to all of your grief. It was that time you had no idea what you were doing so you confided in us, only for us to help you find the answer and inspiration in yourself instead of giving you advice. It may be it was that time that we asked about your "self-care" -just to have to explain what self-care was. Regardless of what it was, it was your involvement in our lives that helped us see ourselves for who could truly be. An amazing, hardworking, life-changing, resource providing, an inspiring social worker. Because let's be honest, the world needs us! They may not see it that way we see it, but social workers really make the world go around. We're behind the scenes providing counseling for those in broken homes to even the most influential entrepreneurs. We're helping families find their way out of poverty and comforting people dealing with abuse. We're in schools helping children stay focused and providing them with their unmet needs and we're even in the Capitol advocating for our communities and wiring legislation that creates opportunity. The field of social work is literally a circle that ties in every other profession, connecting problems with solutions.

A major role of social workers even when a discussion gets controversial, you have to look in the face of the person your opposing, and while you may not agree with them, you’re forced to see the humanity in their opinion. And that’s what I want to charge the Class of 2020 with. When we leave this campus and go out in the world, let’s continue making circles. In our new workplace, lets create environments where those around us are always seen and heard and properly taken care of. In our families, let’s create conversations open for disagreement, in a way that still addresses the validity of our opinions. And in society, where so many people are figuratively in the back of the room, let’s rearrange positions so that no group, no race of people is at a greater advantage than the other. You already have everything you need inside of you, now it is your time to pull it out and be the change that the world needs us to be.

Congratulations to the social work class of 2020 and Rest In Peace “Jack”.  I believe your cohort has made you proud. Thank you.

Turning from alternative to real facts, I have but two messages I want to impart to you class of 2020:

My message is this and let me first say that I’m sorry if it sounds rash, or too forward, or too corny, or too unprofessional, or too personal. But here it is: Stony Brook School of Social Welfare class of 2020, I love you! I can’t help it. I just love all of you…

Let me explain.

When you love someone, you want to be with them. I can think of no place I’d rather be on this earth today than with you, right here, right now.

When you love someone, you feel brighter in their presence. You’re inspired by who they are, by the choices they’ve made, by their values, by what and who they stand for, by how hot they are…

OK, not that last bit, but you take all that other stuff to the bank.

I especially love and respect you TODAY. I don’t mean this day; I mean this era. Social worker graduates, we need you now more than ever.

Evil and greed are upon the land in ways I’ve not seen for many years. The forces of discrimination, of vast inequalities, of immobility, of exclusion, racism, sexism, ignorance—these forces are flexing their muscles, sinews greased with the ill-gotten gains of an investor class that increasing buys the politicians and the policies to protect and promote their power and privilege.

I now call you my colleagues.