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School of Social Work celebrates 96th annual commencement

The UNC School of Social Work held its 96th annual hooding ceremony on Saturday, May 13. Friends, family members, and others gathered in Memorial Hall to celebrate this year’s 127 MSW and eight Ph.D. graduates.

Dean Gary Bowen and Alumni Council President Ashley Benefield, MSW ’08, welcomed the audience, and presented the 2017 Distinguished Alumni Awards. This year’s recipients are: Sharon Warren Cook, MSW ’95; Dana Newman Courtney, MSW ’74; Karen McLeod, MSW ’01; Phyllis Thomas Thorpe, MSW ’82; and Irene Nathan Zipper, MSW ’73.

During the ceremony, the MSW Class of 2017 and Social Work Student Organization (SoWoSo) chairs Michelle Helton, Verlissa Mason and Kristan Rosenthal also honored several faculty and staff members with special awards. Those recognized were:

  • Travis Albritton, Most Supportive Faculty Member
  • Tonya VanDeinse, Most Innovative Faculty Member
  • Marilyn Ghezzi, Most Overall Outstanding Faculty Member
  • Iris Carlton-LaNey, Most Inspirational Faculty Member
  • Beth Sauer, Most Supportive Staff Member
  • Annie Francis, Most Supportive Advisor

Clinical assistant professor Ronald L. Mangum delivered the commencement address and reminded the graduates of the valuable gifts they bring to the social work field — what Mangum referred to as the “anatomy of a social worker.”
“As you work with clients, you’ll put your brain to work every day, helping to identify ways to build bridges, solve problems and becoming very, very creative in the process,” he said.

He also lauded a social worker’s “eyes,” which he said can see “pain and hope in equal measures.”
“…This makes us compassionate people. We see potential where others see failure. We see needs, and we envision solutions.”

A social worker’s ears enable a practitioner to be a good listener, he continued, “to hear dreams and fears and truth in each voice,” while their mouths are crucial tools for speaking up for the voiceless, especially during moments of injustice.
“Injustice and denial of access permeate our system,” Mangum said. “We are truth-seekers and truth-tellers. There is nothing more powerful than our voices and our movement united for a common purpose.”

Finally, Mangum reminded the graduates that a social worker’s head and heart must always work together.
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. This may be one of the truest statements you may ever hear,” he said. “I’ve been involved in social work for over 40 years, and every day, especially when I am interacting in the field, I see the truth in this message. You have to care. And you have to show that you care. That’s the heart of being a social worker.”