In a few short hours, I'll be walking across the stage at the Portland State University, handing my Master's hood to my Advanced Practice Instructor to have her place around my neck, shaking the Deen's hand and accepting my scroll.

I will have been conferred the Master of Social Work.

I have no doubt I'll be leaking copious amounts of tears, but that's ok.  I have a plan for how to stuff tissue up my Master's robe.

I know, I know.  What's the big deal, right?  Thousands of people graduate from undergraduate and graduate school every May and June.  In that vein, it's nothing special.  I completed the degree requirement, paid my tuition and now am being awarded the next logical step.

And of course, I'm completely biased, but when I think about social work and what it has meant for me in the past 11 years, I know this is not just a degree and not just a job.  Yep.  I've been in this field 11 years.  When I decided on graduate school, I knew deep down in my bones that I need to be in this line of work.

(I always, always, always, recommend that people work for at least a year in the field before they enter an MSW program.  This is tear-jerking, back breaking [yet incredibly fulfilling and inspiring] work for which we get paid pennies.  I have some classmates who have already decided that they will not be continuing in the field.)

In this job, I get the supreme opportunity to connect with people - human beings - who are struggling.  And we all struggle.  There is no room for holier than thou attitudes when you're trying to do meaningful, authentic work. Social workers provide 68% of mental health services in America.  68%.  In a few years, I'll be licensed for private practice.  My degree has awarded me the opportunity to counsel a wide range of people going through a wide range of difficulties.  I bristle a little when people think that social workers are "just case managers" or that other degrees "are more clinical."  Both of my clinical placements were spent providing therapy.  However, being an MSW also means that I have a special emphasis on social ecology, person in environment and oppression and social injustice.  But again, I digress.

I think about the 11 years I've spent in this field and the incredibly meaningful and authentic connections I've made with the people I've been honored to work with.  This is not just a degree.  This is a commitment to listening.  A commitment to human beings.  A commitment to social advocacy.

A commitment to bringing my best work all the time.

We take this seriously in my program.  We have a little thing we say to each other:  "He/she is an MSW" and that explains something.  It's code. It means that we know people who are ready to fight for each other's rights.  We know people who know about empowerment and respect.  Ideally, anyway.  There's a few soft apples in every barrel, but today I am so proud of my co-horts.  I am so confident in our abilities to change systems.  We have cried together, and laughed until we were crying, and stressed over papers, and had personal and family difficulties, and we are still here.  Still committed.

These past 3 years I have studied and studied and studied.  I brought everything I have and some of what I didn't know I had.  I have specialized in the aging and specialized in children and families.  I have cried over statistics.  I have worked long hours at OHSU to make ends meet - first in Research Administration and now in Psychiatry Research.  I have, out of sheer necessity, not spent the time with family and good friends that I would have liked to.  I have wanted to punch people during group projects (btw, that never gets better - no matter which degree you're obtaining).  Shoes and I made our long distance relationship work - no, strike that - we found a way to make it thrive.  I have sat with clients as they lie in their bed dying (last year). I have sat with children as they found ways to tell me, through puppets and drawings, of obscene things no child should ever have to go through. I have laughed. I have been enraged.

I have been exhausted.

This degree, however, is even more than that.

This degree was my chance to leave the Vineyard Town and see what else besides Sadness and Worry were in the world for me.  I needed to know there was an additional step.  I needed to know there was more for me, personally.

This is the post I published when I first got in to graduate school:

... a couple of short breaths.

The email says: results have been posted. Go to the applicant log in page to find out. I logged in incorrectly twice ... and then was afraid I was going to get locked out and have to wait for the snail mail acceptance / rejection letter.

It's not just: Did I get in?

It's: Is there something better for me out there?
It's: Am I stronger and better than the past 2 years?
It's: Has the work I've been doing for the past 8 years accumulated to anything?
It's: My Lord, I've told a lot of people I've applied.
It's: Does God really have a plan for a life I barely recognize anymore?

It's: Yes.

It's: Congratulations.

It's: Get ready for more change.

It's: Thankful. So incredibly thankful.

And I am.
I do not really recognize my life anymore - not from the point in August of 2009 when I moved to Portland.
It is better than what I could have asked for.

Graduation pictures to come.  
But I could not wait that long to share this with you.
Today, I am proud to become a Master of Social Work.


  1. Andrea on June 18, 2012 at 8:43 AM

    Totally welled up at all this means for you - seeing the journey of the last few years and where it has taken you.

  2. Rebecca on June 24, 2012 at 6:36 PM

    Linked here from your friend's blog and just wanted to tell you Congratulations on your accomplishment! I loved your post. I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors!

  3. Lisa on June 24, 2012 at 7:24 PM

    @Andrea - You know that grateful feeling you get when you look back at the last few years and you think, "How did this get better?" (and I know you know ;)). It's like that.

    @Rebecca - thanks for the well wishes and for stopping by to comment! I'm excited (understatement) to see what the next few years brings!

  4. Anonymous on June 26, 2012 at 9:47 AM

    Congrats! I regret I only had a few, but meaningful, conversations with you. I knew right away you were very special. My suspicions were confirmed as you became a close, sweet, dear friend to my sweet, dear friend B. I know you two will remain good friends, but I'm a little sad for B that she won't have you so close (geographically), I know you will be missed.
    Best wishes for all the wonderful things that you have worked so hard for.

  5. Lisa on June 28, 2012 at 1:26 PM

    @Susan - thanks, dear heart. I remember very clearly our first conversation at B.'s birthday party at Enso. I so enjoyed my time with you that day (and your sweet son, too!). Thanks for all the good wishes. I'm so glad B. has you!


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