Today was so much more than I ever imagined it could be. Today I walked across a stage and changed my life. Today I became a social worker.
Our program has a private graduation celebration just for our graduating class of BSW students. I opted not to attend the big graduation and attend just this one instead and I have zero regrets about that decision. The entire ceremony was so meaningful and I realized a few things about myself today.
The first is that I made an impact that I was not even aware of. I have mentioned before about how one of the goals I set for myself when I started the program is that I wanted to do well and somehow make a name for myself. I didn’t really have a vision for what that would look like and being the introvert that I am at times this felt like a lofty goal. Well just like a learned early on that you do not have to sell yourself to people in order to network I learned today that you do not have to be extroverted in order to be noticed, there is a place at the table for us introverts as well.
I was recognized by our program with an integrity award. Here is a little background about the award, there were multiple awards given and they were based on social work values. The recipients were nominated by our peers and then of those nominated our peers then voted for who they think best represents each social work value. Integrity is really important to me, this was unexpected and so touching. And the thing is, I really didn’t have to do anything to “win” this award. I navigated the program exactly as I am and those who I worked with saw something in me.. It is a little thing but it means a lot.
The second thing I realized is that it is okay to admit you are scared, people actually respond well when you let your humanity show through.
Yesterday morning my brother called to let me know that I needed to speak at graduation today (just to make sure you caught that, I was given one days notice that I would speaking in front of hundreds of people). Can we say freak out moment? For the record I did not freak out but I stand firm that I had every right to.
The story with this is that about a month ago the BSW student association reached out to the student body and asked us to nominate local social workers in the community to be our speaker at graduation. I checked with a local social worker who I have personally been very impacted by to see if she would be interested and then with her permission I submitted her name and a short essay on why I was nominating her. I never heard anything more about it until yesterday when my brother, who is the Vice President of the BSW student association, called to let me know that the woman I nominated had been selected and that they (the director of the program and the BSWSA) would like me to introduce her at graduation since I nominated her.
I was so glad to discover she would be our speaker, I think she is the living embodiment of our social work ideals and she has a very powerful message. And a big piece of me was honored to be responsible for introducing her, another big piece was scared. I am actually okay with public speaking as long as I have time to prepare, this left me with very little time to process or prepare. They were giving me an out, I was certainly not being forced to introduce her but I knew I would regret it after if I didn’t.
So this morning when it was my time to speak I walked up to the podium, looked out at the crowd, and with a big smile on my face said Good morning, my name is Jillian Baxter and I am nervous. Everyone laughed, including myself. Sometimes I think you just have to be honest. I didn’t even mean to say it, it just slipped out. But you know what, it was true and saying it not only made me feel better, it made me feel more connected to every person in that room because now they know, I am human and I am nervous. After I got that out of the way I felt much more at ease and I gave what I knew was a heart felt introduction and exactly what this amazing social worker deserved.
The third thing I learned at graduation is that it is okay to celebrate yourself and to allow others to celebrate you as well. At the end of graduation Todd and I were walking across campus to the engineering building (that is a story for another day) and Todd told me that I was recognized 5 times during graduation. I realized my name was coming up a bit but I was not keeping track. I admitted to him the attention was a bit much for me, I only expected to have to do the introduction and walk across stage to get my degree, but then all of this other stuff came up where I was recognized. Todd pointed out something I did not realize though and that is that every time my name came up my friends were high fiving me, hugging me, standing up to cheer me on, and at one point even dancing around in celebration of me. I think I got a little lost in the excitement of it all that I did not fully register the support and cheerleaders I had. Luckily Todd had video to show me how supported and celebrated I was, I cried.
I do not feel like I did anything special, I just did things that I had time for and wanted to do. I did things that were meaningful to me, I did things that I knew would make a difference. I did good things and it is okay to not only to celebrate what I accomplished but to also accept praise and celebration from others. ‘
It was an amazing day. I am glad Todd was there, it steadied me to know that he was there in the back of the room with eyes on me sending me love. I am grateful for all of it, for my peers, the professors, the directors, the work, my loved ones, I am even thankful for those who brought me challenges, for those who triggered me at times. It was all special, it all needed to be exactly as it was for me to get where I am.
My name is Jillian and I am a social worker.
I painted my cap in a tie dye design to represent all of my beautiful broken pieces, the light and the dark, because they all were part of getting me here. On my cap I wrote one of my favorite poems from childhood by one of my favorite authors..
Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child,
Listen to the DON’TS
Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
The IMPOSSIBLES, the WON’TS
Listen to the NEVER HAVES, then listen close to me..
ANYTHING can happen, child,
ANYTHING can be!