Students at a diploma ceremony

The School of Social Work awarded diplomas to 275 students this year, including 266 who earned master’s degrees and nine who earned doctoral degrees. Photo by Caitlin Cunningham.

Gautam N. Yadama, dean of the Boston College School of Social Work, urged BCSSW graduates to use their training to heal the racial and economic divisions of our time in a diploma ceremony at Conte Forum on Sunday.

“I am certain each and every one of you will set a standard for social work practice and scholarship that is higher than before,” Yadama said. “Your commitment to social work is a resounding declaration to be of use for a better society and to foster the common good.”

The ceremony marked the first time in 14 months that many students, faculty, and staff had seen each other in person because of the COVID-19 pandemic. To comply with health guidelines, everyone wore masks and stayed at least six feet apart. Each graduate was allowed to bring one guest to celebrate the big day, which was streamed live on YouTube for people who could not make it. 

Yadama said the pandemic has exacted a huge social, economic, and psychological toll and reaffirmed the need for social workers. Many graduates at the ceremony, he noted, have worked to improve the lives of people hit hardest by COVID-19, including those in Black and Latinx communities. Over the past year, he said, students have helped to secure food, shelter, money, and mental health services for some of the most vulnerable people in Boston and beyond. 

“The pandemic has laid bare our strengths, vulnerabilities, and capabilities,” he said. “It has reaffirmed the vital role of the social work profession and your decision to become professional social workers and scholars.”

Yadama praised the graduates for adapting to life in the pandemic, saying they powered through countless meetings on Zoom and made the most of internships that were complicated by the health crisis. 

“All of you are here because of your grit, courage, and tenacity,” he told the graduates. 

The School awarded diplomas to 275 students this year, including 266 who earned master’s degrees and nine who earned doctoral degrees. Twelve students who graduated from the master’s program received named awards for their outstanding contributions in the classroom, the community, and their field of practice, and 19 students earned 4.0 grade point averages. 

Following Yadama’s remarks, professor Tom Walsh read the names of the graduates, who received their diplomas, walked across a stage, and paused to have their photos taken with the dean. Even under their masks, you could see them smiling as they clutched a most cherished piece of paper, wrapped up in a gold and maroon bow.   

Some graduates sported yellow lapel pins that said “2021”—keepsakes that will be sure to conjure up fond memories of this momentus occassion decades from now. “I got my degree in a pandemic,” they will tell their children or grandchildren. “I’ll never forget it.”

After students received their diplomas, Alejandro Olayo-Méndez, a Jesuit priest and an assistant professor, offered a blessing in Spanish and English. 

“May God bless you and sustain you on this, your graduation day,” he said. “May the creator of this vast universe keep you safe as you go forth. May the almighty look down upon you and give you success in all your endeavors.”