« Je veux de l’amour, de la joie, de la bonne humeur. Ce n’est pas votre argent qui fera mon bonheur. Moi, je veux crever la main sur le cœur. » -zaz
[I want love, joy, cheer. It’s not your money that will make my happiness. Me, I want to die with a clear conscience.]
This week I begin my first week of classes at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis. If you take away the important institution in that sentence, all people hear is “social work.” Then, they chuckle and say, “You’re not going to make any money.”
Crap, I’m going to be poor? I hadn’t thought about that. I thought about being a lawyer. I thought about being a doctor in psychology. I even thought about international relations and public health. I pinched all kinds of programs to see which felt right. I thought and I thought. No one told me, “Be a social worker. It’s perfect for you.” Obviously saving me from poverty.
It was only listlessly perusing the Peace Corps website, I clicked their “grad school” link and found the Masters International program. Might as well get my masters while I do Peace Corps, if I’m going to go that route. I searched their institution database for “psychology” programs, which was my undergraduate major. Go with what you know. The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor’s social work program showed up as one of the only results. Social work? Ok, I’ll check it out.
I dug into the field and the more I dug, the more I freaked out. I saw this and this and I could see myself. This is what I wanted all along. I wanted the issues of human rights, justice, social welfare. Yes, I wanted policy, community, and individuals, every level of change. I wanted to make an impact. Most of all, I wanted to make a real and lasting difference in as many diverse and unique ways I could by being a leader, a mover-a-shaker, but more importantly a hand and a hug. There was a career for that? This was my life path. Why had no one ever told me this existed? Social work it would be.
I can’t even believe I didn’t think about the fact that I would be poor. Shame on me.
I chose social work without thinking.
I chose social work because poverty, violence, hatred, and discrimination don’t paralyze me but infuriate me and compel me to be more and do more. I chose social work because when I hear about injustice I don’t despair. I can do something about it and if I can’t personally, I have two hundred students around me right now who will try . I chose social work because I am not afraid of the world. Because classes like “social justice and human diversity” are foundation courses for my program—and I believe justice and diversity should be a part of everyone’s foundation.
I chose social work because I want to create and a social worker is like an artist, but better. I don’t want to paint hope on the future for the hopeless but hold out a paintbrush. There’s this entire world, hundreds of problems, smattered, and I can’t fix them alone. I want the hopeless to paint something for me, hold their hand, maybe guide the brush until they’re dancing down the hallways, creating murals over the pain. We could all be victims but there is creation in learning how not to be. These are the stories we tell and write.
I am a social work student because my professors and peers talk about racism, foster homes, welfare, and violence, things they’ve lived and seen, and we call it class discussion. I chose social work because there is wealth in listening to these stories.
And after these two years, I’ll have a Masters degree at a phenomenal institution, months of rich engagement in research and culture, and an incredible network of professional contacts in my field. I’ll have it made. I could step on everyone and fly away with this opportunity. I am, in fact, privileged beyond incredible belief and if you call me poor, you’ve never met poor. So that begs the bigger question, how can my future salary worry you more than the state of the world?