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'The world needs you more than ever'

Dean Shadi Martin shares Commencement message with Social Work's graduates

(Note: Below is text of School of Social Work Dean Shadi Martin's December Commencement remarks.)

I am honoured to have been invited to speak to you this evening on this very special occasion of your graduation.

This zoom graduation is both heartbreaking and wonderful.

Heartbreaking as it reminds us and makes us painfully aware of the cost of this global Pandemic – from loss of thousands of lives – to loss of human connections. 

My 14-year-old daughter reminds me daily that she feels this pandemic is stealing her teenage years.  We have all been robbed of time to be together to celebrate special occasions or mourn losses of loved ones.

I am well aware of the magnitude of the loss from this pandemic and I believe it has spared non of us. 

But this zoom graduation is also wonderful; wonderful because it shows your strength, creativity and it is uniquely you - uniquely the graduates of 2020. 

This zoom graduation not only marks this historic moment of your graduation, but it marks a historic moment in human history.  A moment that will be remembered for generations to come.  This video of your graduation may be studied by scholars and historians; it may even end up in a museum.

It not only marks a moment of great significance to you and your loved ones but also a moment of global significance in human history.

This pandemic has also confronted the world with the many social justice issues – issues that social workers have long been tackling.  

We have all wondered why certain populations are being impacted by this pandemic more than others.  After all, we believed this virus did not discriminate – well it looks like it does or perhaps it is not the virus that discriminates but the inherent intuitional racism that persists in our society that perpetuates inequalities in health outcomes. As we see the disproportionate toll this pandemic is taking on minority populations.

This pandemic has helped the world see that many of those who we call front line workers, essential workers, and now rightly Heroes are minorities and immigrants – the same minorities and immigrants that just before the Pandemic there were calls for their “return to where they came from.”

I believe this pandemic still has much more to teach all of us, but these lessons will not come without pain.  But sadly, perhaps pain is what is needed in order to see the kind of systemic changes needed at the roots of our society.

I believe in your generation, after all, your generation showed the rest of us that things are not binary –

You rejected being defined by others or boxed into categories that do not fit you. You showed the world the importance of self-expression of identity rather than being boxed into categories that are neither biological nor real but simply there to advance political agendas ---like race and gender.


Your generation has inspired us to see things as not black and white or binary – for example:


The health of the economy and the health of the individual is not binary


Being a patriotic American and wearing a mask is not binary


Having faith and believing in science is not binary


Like you, this graduation is authentic - as it is defined by you.  I am honoured to be a part of it and be invited in to celebrate who you are and who you have become – and to be here to be proud with you!

So now, I want to ask you to look around the screen at your family and friends - the people who have come to share this proud moment with you. This is a time to stop and recognize the many sacrifices that you and your loved ones have made to make this day possible.

This moment is as much about them as it is about you. Feel the presence of those who couldn't be here - but you know there is no other place they would have rather been.

Remember this day - this is your moment - this is your day of harvest - it has not been simple or easy but you have persisted - be proud of what you have accomplished -

My hope is that we will emerge from this pandemic with more compassion and appreciation for what is truly essential in life.


As social workers you are front line workers and you are essential.  This pandemic has helped the world to see you for the heroes that you truly are. The world needs you more than ever and I believe in you and your generation to have the moral courage to lead us into a better tomorrow. 




Shadi Martin speaking
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