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Celebrating Class of 2019

On Friday, December 13, the Tulane University School of Social Work held its annual commencement ceremony to confer degrees on over 95 students. The school held the event in the Grand Hall of the Jung Hotel on Canal Street and welcomed over 700 participants, including speakers, guests, students, family members, and friends.

In addressing the graduates at the beginning of the ceremony, School of Social Work Dean Patrick Bordnick said “I assure you that you have the ability now to empower others and join social workers across the world making a difference in people’s lives. You are ready.” 

Dr. Robin Forman, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Tulane University Provost, presided over the event, conferring all the degrees, including Doctorate of Social Work, Master of Social Work, and Master of Science in Disaster Resilience Leadership. As members of the graduating class, Sheila Rivers, Lugine Gray, and Kenneth Vernon gave speeches, and Dr. Charles Figley, Kurzweg Distinguished Chair in Disaster Mental Health and Distinguished Professor, presented student and faculty awards. 

To recognize a significant cultural and social impact on the New Orleans community, Dean Bordnick along with the award’s first recipient Derrick Tabb, Grammy Award winner, member of the Rebirth Brass Band, and co-founder of The Roots of Music, presented the “Do Work That Matters” award to Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews.

“Troy and his team at the Trombone Shorty Foundation bring all of the passion and love to working with thousands of youth in the New Orleans community to provide mentors, role models, social support, cultural opportunities, and, of course, music instruction,” said Dean Bordnick. “All of this work is the cornerstone to empower our youth to become the next generation of leaders preserving New Orleans’ musical heritage by performing locally and around the globe.”

Because of her immense commitment to social work education, the profession, and the community, Parker Sternbergh, Tulane alumnae and Director of the Porter-Cason Institute and Center for Lifelong Learning presented the ceremony’s commencement address.

“You in this room don’t only represent yourselves. You represent the profession. And, you represent Tulane. Every single day. We expect leadership, and we expect you to come back, keep in touch, and call on us when you need us. That’s what family does,” said Parker.

During the ceremony, the school was honored to facilitate a family reunion between one of our graduating students and her mother currently serving in the military. Army Staff Sergeant Omayra Cosme surprised her daughter Anisa McKenzie by joining her on stage as she accepted her diploma. Staff Sergeant Cosme had believed she would be unable to make the graduation due to her training schedule for a January deployment to Kuwait. In appreciation of Staff Sergeant Cosme’s 11 years of military service and Anisa’s commitment to the field of social work, the school arranged for the mother’s travel to attend the graduation.

The school was also pleased to recognize the following individuals for their contributions over the past year.

  • Student awards given by the school’s faculty:
    • Patricia Hilton received the “Student Award for Excellence” in the Doctorate of Social Work Program for exemplifying outstanding scholarship as well as outstanding research and/or grant capabilities.
    • Shalini Persaud received the “Student Award for Excellence” in Disaster Resilience Leadership for excelling scholastically and demonstrating significant leadership skills and initiative while completing the Master of Science program at the Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy.
    • Olivia Cinquegrana received the “Outstanding Academic Achievement Award” for excelling in the classroom while maintaining the highest degree of professionalism in pursuit of the Master of Social Work degree. 
    • Kythaia Hale received the “Leanne Joy Knot Award” for exemplifying the determination, character, integrity, understanding, caring, adaptability and dedication of the late Leanne Joy Knot, a Master of Social Work and Master of Public Health dual degree student. 
  • Faculty awards given by the school’s student body:
    • Dr. Bruce Thyer received the “Outstanding Faculty Award in the DSW Program.”
    • Rob Verchick received the “Outstanding Faculty Award in the DRLA Program.”
    • Dr. Maurya Glaude received the “Outstanding Faculty Award in the MSW Program.”

Tulane School of Social Work faculty and staff were in attendance, including Assistant Dean of Finance and Administration Dr. Arturo Rodriguez as Master of Ceremonies, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Dr. Joan Blakey presenting the degree candidates, DSW Program Director Dr. Tonya Hansel overseeing the hooding for doctorate degrees, and Executive Assistant to the Dean Mel’isa Morel serving as the event’s coordinator.

The ceremony included an academic procession and second-line exit played by Roots of Music and singing of America the Beautiful and the school’s Alma Mater by Tulane’s Green Envy acapella group.

The event was also live streamed, and a recording is available here.