Robyn Golden's 2009 Remarks

Acceptance Speech for Edith Abbott Award, SSA Nite! 2009

Thank you Annie and Tom. I have so many people I want to acknowledge and thank this evening: the Alumni board, Dean Marsh and Deputy Dean Karen Teigiser, both of whom I had as teachers -- that was awhile ago -- you must have both started teaching here at the age 16 -- my fellow alums, colleagues, students, family and friends.

I am very excited to receive this award, but to receive it from one of my students, and a star student at that -- is a special honor. Annie, you have really become an amazing social worker and I have so much respect for you.

I want to thank Ruth Fruehauf who nominated me for this award -- another social worker and alum who is one of the most dedicated and talented social workers I know -- and also a dear friend. And thank you to Joy Getzenberg and Phyllis Mitzen, other alums, who clearly helped in the process. Phyllis, you were my boss, and now colleague and friend --thank you for all of your support always.

It will be 30 years this fall since I first entered this building as a student and to this day I feel all of the power and potential of our profession when I walk into this hallowed place. And I come here a lot! Early in my education, I knew that I wanted to play many different roles in the social work field. My undergraduate experience first showed me the myriad roles that social workers can play, and in multiple settingsSSA's reinforcement of this by its generalist approach -- is why I came here. I am so grateful that this is where I learned to think critically and problem solve strategically.

Tonight on this centennial celebration, I am aware of the significant history of those social work pioneers who have come before us, including of course the giant after whom this award is named. Like Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, I stand here on the shoulders of those who have come before me.

It means so much to me that one of those pioneers is with us today. I learned many things from Bernece Simon, but her greatest contribution to my development is when she taught me "how to teach", to not only listen to students but to facilitate their learning from each other without even being aware of the magic of the process. I only hope I have performed a fraction as well as you. Thank you for this, Bernece, and more- - you have immeasurably influenced my development and that of the entire profession.

My commitment to the field of social work is a strong and passionate one. Not once have I ever questioned the choices I've made and never have I questioned the decision I made to become a social worker. I have been privileged in my career. How lucky I am to be able to say and feel that.

As many of you know I have been working with older adults and their families in the aging, social service and health care arenas trying to bridge practice, policy and research. With changing demographics, advances in technology, and a strong desire to age in place, the needs of older adults will call for a transformation of our traditional mechanisms for delivering services. No matter how well crafted, current services may be different from what our clients want or need. So, we need to involve and listen to consumers in the process. In doing so, we cannot forget the voices of the hard to reach. There are many older adults and their caregivers who are among the most vulnerable and who deserve to have a better quality of life than society currently affords them.

I am proud of my alma mater for establishing the Older Adult Studies Program to create specialists in aging and infuse generalists with the knowledge needed to address this growing demographic demand. Also, to be willing to take on an innovative approach to field education which we know is the cornerstone of applying theory to practice. The program has and will continue to make a difference and I congratulate faculty and staff for their commitment to making SSA a place to learn about the needs of older people and how  best to meet them.

Even though there are half a million social workers practicing in the United States, social work remains one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented professions. We need to preserve our traditional roles but also create new ones. Yes, these new models of social work practice must be based on evidence but we must also integrate the wisdom gained from experience. My vision of social work is one in which practitioners, administrators, researchers, academics and policy makers work together to identify and evaluate cutting edge theory, techniques and strategies --that ultimately lead to programs and policy which result in more responsive institutions and services and ultimately healthier individuals and communities. The social work culture needs to remain one of commitment, ethical practice, cultivating and nurturing professional connections and partnerships and even in these times when we need to pay attention to the bottom line, one that never loses sight of the people we serve. I believe that through this process we can change perceptions, demonstrate value, and build a stronger future for the profession.

Even though our world is a much more complex one than the one confronted by Edith Abbott and her colleagues, our profession must continue to reflect the moral imperative to correct the disparities, enhance equality and bring us all closer to a just society. To do that we need to go beyond what is comfortable and strive to be politically active and engaged.

I would like to accept this award in honor of my dear classmates and friends David Evans and Gary Davis, who were budding social workers extraordinaire but did not live long enough to be recognized in this way. As I am being honored, I see them sitting here smiling -- like it was yesterday!

So many of you have taught, influenced and supported me -- believe me -- I would not be here without you. I am particularly proud that our daughter, Sana, is following in the family business. Relationship is the core of our work and indeed our lives and all of you have been what sustains and nourishes me.

Edith Abbott's contributions were unique for her time. She stressed the importance of professionalizing social work by strengthening research and made SSA the force that it is today. She became the first female dean of a graduate school in the United States and used her position to speak in favor of the essential need for a public welfare administration, the need for a more humane social welfare system, and the responsibility of the state in addressing social problems. She was passionate about gender equality and indeed the equality of all human beings -- an idea that seemed radical at the time and unfortunately may still seem that way today to some.

Let us all go forth as social work leaders. May we know our impact, continue our good work and carry forward the legacy of Edith Abbott.

Thank you!

Robyn Golden