UNC School of Social Work will honor and celebrate its 2023 graduating class of MSW and Ph.D. students in a commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 13, 2023, at Memorial Hall on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
In total, 135 students will be recognized this year with master’s degrees and three students will receive doctoral degrees. Individual receptions for graduates of each degree program will be hosted on Friday, May 12, in the School’s Tate-Turner Kuralt Building. The School will also announce the recipient of the 2023 Outstanding Graduate Student Award during the Ph.D. reception. This year’s Ph.D. graduates are Daniel James Gibbs, Melissa Renee Jenkins and Quinton LaKeith Smith.
“All of our students deserve to embrace this moment,” praised Dean Ramona Denby-Brinson. “Celebrate yourself and let others celebrate you.”
Among this year’s MSW graduating class are students who began their educational journey during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Every student should feel proud of all they have accomplished during such a challenging time, she added.
“My hope for them is that they will continue to be fierce in their advocacy and not give up,” Denby-Brinson said. “Through their own perseverance, they have shown that the social work mission and cause is worthy of their effort and is worthy of their time.”
Business advisor, educator and speaker Stedman Graham will serve as the School’s 2023 commencement speaker. Graham, who holds a bachelor’s degree in social work alongside a master’s degree in education and three honorary doctorates, is a former adjunct professor at the Northwestern Kellogg School of Business. He currently serves as chairman and chief executive officer of S. Graham and Associates, a management and marketing consulting firm in Chicago, Illinois.
The author of 12 books, including two New York Times best sellers, Graham will speak on the topic of “Innovation and Leadership: Lessons from and for social workers.”
Dedicated to community development, Graham is the founder of the Concerned Citizens of Whitesboro, a grassroots organization that focuses on improving leadership, representation, and community programs within Graham’s hometown of Whitesboro, a community within Middle Township, New Jersey. He also serves as co-founder of the Community Alliance for Youth Success, a nonprofit organization that provides educators, school systems, and youth empowerment organizations with proven methods to nurture connection, confidence, and motivation in the young people they serve.
That Graham has been able to use his social work education in so many professional ways illustrates the diversity of career paths graduates can take with a social work degree, Denby-Brinson noted.
“I think his story by itself will be an inspiration to our students,” she said. “But he also shows the multifaceted nature of leadership. Leadership is more than just fancy titles. It’s literally block to block, neighborhood to neighborhood and agency to agency and helping to convene folks around our shared values.”
Graham holds a bachelor’s degree in social work from Hardin-Simmons University and a master’s degree in education from Ball State University and three honorary doctorate degrees. A member of the Horatio Alger Association, one of the nation’s largest need-based, privately funded scholarship providers, Graham also served in the United States Army and played professional basketball in the European League.