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ASU Tucson graduation a celebration of community, commitment

Cassie Meredeck with mother
May 11, 2015

ASU 2015 commencement banner

A sign of the strong sense of community that defines the Arizona State University Tucson campus, more than 1,300 people came out to congratulate the 100 graduates in the School of Social Work, part of the College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

“Your graduation is a significant point of pride for the school and the faculty,” professor Craig LeCroy told graduates. “We have gotten to know each and every one of you. We are deeply thankful for your commitment to learn and willingness to apply your skills to go out and make a difference in the world. Each graduate sitting in front of me tonight offers something special to the world.”

Graduate student Molly Gebler was named outstanding graduate for the ASU School of Social Work. She will be working for the state Department of Child Safety.

“I am extremely excited for the opportunity to work for an agency that is ever-evolving and expects hard work and dedication. I plan to remain in Tucson and work for the community that has given me so much,” Gebler said.

Looking back on her experience, Rosa Montaño said, “The most memorable part for me was to be able to finish my degree here in Tucson and still be with my family.”

Montaño earned her master of social work degree, with a concentration in policy, administration and community, and plans to “advocate for oppressed populations on a policy level.”

“I want to advocate on a larger scale,” she said.

For Cassie Meredeck, the ASU in Tucson experience was excellent from the start.

"I just remember being completely new to this whole experience and meeting some of the faculty during the first week and just being overblown of how supportive they are. They are very encouraging to all of us," said Meredeck, who has a certificate in gerontology and plans to work with older adults living with dementia or mental illness.

Nick Eckley, who earned his master of social work degree, praised the community feel of his studies.

“The most memorable thing about my time at ASU was spending each night with the same people over and over. Just having that group of people there was like a support group,” said Eckley, who will continue his work as a therapist for adolescents and young adults with substance-abuse disorders.

Keynote speaker Ross Zimmerman, senior computer network designer for Pima Community College, reflected on his late son Gabe’s path, seeing “social work as a vehicle for positive change.”

Gabe Zimmerman earned his master of social work from ASU. He joined Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford’s team as director of community outreach, serving as the face and voice of the office. He was killed in the Tucson shootings on Jan. 8, 2011.

Ross Zimmerman also noted the diverse paths that social work professionals take – and the breadth of impact they can have, even in fields not typically classified as social work.

He noted challenges facing our communities, all with an underlying need to “sustain a society with love, concern and respect. That sounds like a job for social work.”

“The world is dark – violence, poverty, pain. You are the light in that darkness. It is not just your belief in service. It is the belief that the path through that darkness is illuminated by empathy, by human connection. We all benefit from the work you are doing,” said Jonathan Koppell, dean of the College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

“Something about the School of Social Work in Tucson brings a contagious energy to the campus. When you leave here don’t lose it,” said Lela Rankin Williams, associate professor and Tucson coordinator. “We need that energy if we are going to solve the problems impacting our communities every day.”

Earlier this year, the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare announced a preliminary set of Grand Challenges for Social Work. Whether the goal is eliminating hunger or the stigma of mental illness, the premise of the initiative is “that how well we work together is the most fundamental path to a just, equitable and socially cohesive society.

Williams added, “For my last lecture, the thing that I want to teach you is that the work you are doing is all that matters. All of the solutions to these Grand Challenges start right here, right in our community.”

View a recording of the spring 2015 Tucson graduation.