Students Turned Superheroes: 300 Graduates Honored at Recognition

Alumni; Public Health; Social Work; Students

Superheroes, changemakers, change agents —whatever you to choose to call them, on May 17, 2018, 300 Brown School graduates—focused on impact in social work, public health and social policy—were honored at the School’s recognition ceremony.

The graduates and their guests were addressed by Brown School alumna Charita L. Castro-Gonzalves, MSW ’99, chief of the Research and Policy Division at U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking. She praised the night’s master’s and doctoral graduates for their commitment to others, recognizing that they saw a world where their “own betterment was not good enough.”

“The day you chose to fight for others is the day you became a superhero,” she said. She encouraged the crowd to determine the essence of their own power and learn to work in harmony with others to make an indelible impact.

“A superhero knows that we rarely tackle the world’s problems in isolation. Poverty, rape, homophobia, police brutality: these social ills call for more than an army of one.”

Brown School Recognition Ceremony, Thursday, May 17, 2018. Keynote speaker: Charita L. Castro-Gonzalves.

Neidorff Family and Centene Corporation Dean Mary M. McKay said when crafting her own remarks, she was inspired by a song from the hit Broadway show Hamilton, “The Story of Tonight.” The song begins: “I may not live to see our glory, but I’ll gladly join the fight, and when your children tell our story, they’ll tell the story of tonight.”

She reminded the grads: “You are joining more than 10,000 changemakers that have already graduated from this school. … The story of tonight is that tomorrow there will be even more of us, committed to bring our social work, public health and social policy skills to advance social change.”

Two students from the graduating class were also selected to address their peers. Stephen Bell, an MSW graduate with an American Indian and Alaska Native concentration, referenced his time teaching Native youth and the seemingly insurmountable barriers they face.

“I am confident; I am hopeful for this fight because I also think of the incredible cohort I am graduating with. You were meant to be here. … You were meant to fight the systems that grind our people down.”

Shakira Onwuachi, MSW graduate, provided an inspiring spoken word presentation to conclude the event, reflecting on the evolution this class has been through, and the change they hope to make in the world.

“… Social change agent is what we are
Charged with alleviating pain
Making impacts and policy gains

Excited and timid we came
Determination and dedication remained
Knowledge and wisdom flows through our veins …”

University Commencement Speaker, Donald Gerke

The next morning at the university-wide Commencement, Brown School doctoral graduate Donald (Donny) Gerke, The Graduate School’s featured speaker, spoke of the value of persistence during these times of challenge, allowing failure to be a teacher, and the role all could play in furthering social justice, no matter their career focus.

“Each of you here has the ability to use the knowledge and skills you gained at Washington University to the benefit of our communities, our nation and our world,” he encouraged. “Use this perspective and that knowledge to make the world a healthier and more just place for its citizens.”

Learn more about Gerke’s work.

View the university Commencement here.