UNC School of Social Work celebrated the graduation of 135 MSW and six Ph.D. students in its 101st commencement ceremony on May 7, 2022. The celebration at Memorial Hall on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was the first in-person ceremony that the School has hosted since May of 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The previous two ceremonies were held virtually.
The Tar Heel graduation was also the first for Dean Ramona Denby-Brinson, who joined UNC School of Social Work nearly a year ago.
“Today is a good day, and we should celebrate,” Denby-Brinson noted in her welcome address to the graduating students. “Why is today such a good day? Help is on the way. Change is even more possible now. Strongholds are about to be broken. Systems will be transformed. Truths will be told, and lawmakers will be held accountable. Conditions will change for so many because 135 MSW and six Ph.D. social work students will begin their journey today.”
Denby-Brinson also noted the significance of the students’ academic achievements during an unprecedented moment in time, one that involved the challenges of two pandemics.
“Yes, pandemic with an s. Not a misspeak,” she said. “Class of 2022, you endured a global public health crisis and you experienced and witnessed a degree of racial unjust that shook us to our core. You have experienced a program without meeting your professors and classmates in person and at times, you may have even been isolated. But of course, your story doesn’t end there. You showed up anyway. You did the work. You strengthened one another and you weathered and embraced the changes thrown at you.”
In enduring these challenges, the students have also aligned themselves with past generations who faced their own obstacles, she added.
“And because I know the real work of our profession is cultivating the courage and the wherewithal to move from rhetoric to action, this is why I stop and smile,” she said. “Because I have already seen how you have cultivated courage, and how you have dug deep within yourselves. Please remember that. I want that knowledge of adapting and continuing despite extreme challenges to be encoded in your hearts and in your minds as much as anything you learn here. You did that. You should never doubt that you are prepared to meet challenges that your career or life may bring.”
Commencement speaker James Moore III, a world leader in the advancement of diversity, equity, and inclusion, also praised the graduates for choosing to join a noble and honorable profession “with a rich history of crossing society’s self-imposed borders of race, class and faith to establish relationships with the marginalized.”
“Social work graduates your country needs you like never before,” said Moore, the vice provost for diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer at The Ohio State University and executive director of the Todd Anthony Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male. “The forces of discrimination, economic and social inequality, racism, sexism, and ignorance threaten our American experience. These are powerful forces, but you are powerful, too. You have the power of moral persuasion. You have the power of fact-based analysis. You have the power of social justice.”
Honoring alumni, faculty and staff
Each year, the School’s graduation ceremony also includes additional presentations recognizing the contributions of alumni as well as faculty and staff.
Lori Messinger, MSW ’96, Ph.D. ’99, professor and dean of the University of Tennessee Knoxville College of Social Work, and Nora El-Khouri Spencer, MSW ’17, the founder and CEO of Hope Renovations in Carrboro, N.C. were selected this year to receive UNC School of Social Work’s 2022 Distinguished Alumni Awards.
Recipients of these awards have achieved distinction in the social work field, embody social work values and carry the School’s mission of service into the world.
Members of the School of Social Work Student Organization also honored the following faculty and staff:
- Laurie Selz Campbell, Most Supportive Faculty Member
- JP Przewoznik, Most Innovative Faculty Member and Most Inspirational Faculty Member
- Travis Albritton, Most Overall Outstanding Faculty Member and
- Beth Sauer, Most Supportive Staff Member