To The Graduates of Loyalist College DSW Programme As Requested by Elizabeth Schillings-McLennan
I was honoured to get a note on Facebook requesting that I send a message to you all as graduates. I admit to being somewhat daunted by writing this - it's such a big occasion and words, even lots of words, can seem inadequate when it comes to marking the really big days of our lives. But when Elizabeth wrote and asked me to do this, I decided that I really want to take the opportunity to say a few things to you.
I am impressed, first of all, that you have chosen the career you have chosen - you will be told, over and over again, by those who don't know any better, that there must be something special about you, that you must be so kind, and so patient, and so special because you do what you do. Be wary of these compliments because they aren't complements at all - they are excuses for exclusion. "There is something exceptional about those who are around exceptional people - and since I don't have what you have, keep them near you and away from me." So that's not what I mean.
When I say I am impressed by your choice, it's for a very different reason, it's because we live in the days of selfishness. Where I phones and I pads and I pods have created the ultimate culture of 'I'. Choosing to work with and support people means that you are choosing to step outside of yourself, choosing to fill your day with meeting the needs of others, choosing to listen to voices that others prefer not to hear - choosing this means that you, willingly and knowingly, are opening up yourself, your inner'I', your you-ness, to the life and to the will and to the dreams of another. That is an extraordinary choice.
There are many dangers along the path that you have chosen. The most terrifying, is the addictive nature of power. Be cautious with the power given you, in learned submission, from those you say you serve. Be cautious of the power that you have simply by being needed by another human being. Be cautious of the power given you simply by being seen as the valued in support of the devalued. The greatest power you can have, is the power to resist power. To stay silent when your voice isn't required. This takes the muscle of self control and the courage of self awareness - it can be done, but it's work. Every day at work, it's work.
Train yourself toward vigilance, remember, always, that you are only you - and that who you are ends at the tips of your fingers. Your decisions and your choices end where you end. Maintaining self-hood while welcoming the self-hood of another is perhaps the coolest skill that you can develop over time. The fact that the person you support likes, and chooses, and wants different things than you - will be evidence that they have learned to trust you enough to be who they are without fear of you, and your judgement and your power. This is an extraordinary thing.
Being in human services is cool because, in essence, you are paid to be human. Paid to explore the commonalities of the human condition. Paid to discover the incredible diversity of the human spirit. Paid to spend your day doing something that matters, something that makes a difference, something that you can be proud of. Done right, you have chosen both a job and a passion, both a passion and a mission, both a mission and a purpose.
There are those who spend their lives looking for purpose.
You will rise to it each morning.
And that's a hell of a way to start the day.
So to all you graduating from Loyalist, and from other colleges - congratulations ... both for what you have accomplished and for choosing to step away from 'I' to discover the incredible power of 'we.'