Mourning the loss of spring semester

By S. Jolene Hui, MSW, LCSW
NASW-CA Membership Director

We are mourning the loss of spring semester and graduation ceremonies.

Typically at this time, we are all ordering our regalia or pulling it out of the closet to engage in some of the happiest times of our lives – graduation ceremonies. And for many schools or departments of social work, graduate programs have their own “hooding” ceremonies where faculty members place colorful regalia hoods over students’ heads to anoint them as masters of the social work profession. During these ceremonies students often present their graduate projects and/or say a few words to their family and friends that have supported them on their educational journeys.

Graduation ceremonies are really one of the most joyous events in our lifetimes. It is incredibly rewarding to see students so happy surrounded by all of their loved ones during such an exciting time. And it is emotional for students to be surrounded by their loved ones during this time. Tears are shed, hugs are given, and all of the hard work and long nights are celebrated. Many students make great sacrifices to attend college and graduate school. For some they may be the first person in their families to attend higher education. Some have families they are supporting. Some are going to school while employed full-time. And on top of that, they are completing their academic work while attending their field placements.

This spring, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all of these graduation plans were postponed or even cancelled. Most students were pulled out of their placements quite suddenly – some asked to do remote work, some told by placements that there wasn’t any remote work for them to do. Students worried they wouldn’t have enough hours to graduate. And even with enough hours to graduate, they were saddened by the fact that graduations were moved to virtual platforms. They were upset that their families and friends wouldn’t be able to celebrate with them; that they wouldn’t be able to hug and congratulate their classmates on their successes.

All field experience is valuable. Every year I tell my students that experiences they perceive as positive and experiences they perceive as negative are both useful. As students you are learners – you are learning how agencies operate, learning about different supervision styles, and learning how to navigate convoluted systems that we work within on a daily basis. This situation has made and is continuing to make us more flexible and more helpful during these times of struggle.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t grieve the loss of your spring semester or your graduation ceremony. You are allowed to feel the loss of the celebration of your great achievements. While you have probably read tips on how to engage in self-care at this time, and how you can celebrate virtually, it is ok to cry about not getting to wear that cap and gown with your cohort. It is ok to be angry or upset that you didn’t get to engage in the kind of celebration you’ve been looking forward to for years. It is ok if you feel this grief. Our education is a huge accomplishment that should be celebrated. For those of you completing your masters, the MSW is considered a terminal degree – that means you are at the end of your road. Once you start accruing those post-graduate hours you are on your way to licensure and into the future.

It is an honor and a joy to work with social work students. You’ve made a decision to join the best profession in the world. As you know, it is a challenging one in a lot of ways but can also be extremely rewarding. I want to congratulate you on all of your hard work and am excited to call you all colleagues. Now I’m giving you all a virtual hug.

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S. Jolene Hui, LCSW is NASW-CA’s Director of Membership and can be reached at jhui.naswca@socialworkers.org. She is also part-time adjunct faculty in the MSW program at California State University, Dominguez Hills where she is a foundation year field liaison.

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