The 2019 Adler University class of Chicago and Online Campus students graduated on October 20. Victoria Stewart, a graduate of the Master of Public Policy: Human Rights Advocacy Program in Chicago, spoke at the commencement ceremony at the Chicago Theatre. She shared her commencement speech with us, which highlights how the Adler University experience has influenced her and her colleagues in their understanding of what it means to be socially responsible practitioners—and how they can use their professions to create positive change and advance social justice.
Good morning everyone. I want to thank you all for being here to celebrate this spectacular day. We did it! It’s been a long time coming, a long…year (joke). But this one year at Adler University was such a life changing experience that I deeply appreciate.
Moving here from Michigan was a huge step in my life, but in making the decision to come to Chicago and study at Adler University I knew that this school, this program would be worth any initial hesitations. Over the last few years I have become more and more involved in politics as I saw innocent black boys being murdered in the street, children being put in cages, and the continuous gross abuse of power from this administration. I came to a point where I realized I need to do something about it. It was at this point that I took to the internet to find this mythical school that would bring together my background in psychology and my new found passion for social justice and I found Adler University. I was born in Chicago, so this was in part a homecoming and just made it even clearer that this was the path that I needed to be on. It turns out I was right.
In addition to the education I received in the Public Policy program, I also had the joy of meeting many fellow students that inspire me, some of which are now my closest friends and will be my colleagues and confidants for years to come.
I appreciate and thank the faculty that taught and mentored me like Dr. Keisha Farmer-Smith and Dr. Valerie Werner. They are all for me my sisters in arms. Every day they challenged me to think critically about the world around me: how I have been shaped by my environment and how I can go forth and have an impact on it through creating or changing policy on those big, difficult issues. All while keeping in mind that those most affected must have their voices heard in the process of creating change for true justice to be realized.
Let’s be clear our challenge to create a more just and inclusive society is not exclusive to public policy advocates and leaders. It must be part of everyone in both our professional and personal lives. We must always remember to make the conscious decision each day to reject discrimination, marginalization, and injustice, and work to create a more diverse and inclusive reality every day. With all of us banding together in this fight, we can make real change on a massive scale.
Social responsibility requires empathy; our abilities to care about our fellow family, friends and community members, and care enough to take pause and recognize the impact our choices might have on others. Going into the field of public policy I now understand that it is my responsibility to stay cognizant that every decision I make, every issue in the public arena and piece of policy I touch has an impact on real people and their lives, and the environment that we all inhabit.
My fellow students graduating from Adler University it is all of our responsibility to fight against racism, xenophobia, transphobia, homophobia, sexism, ableism, and every other form of hatred, especially in this moment in history when populist governments that wane nostalgically about the good old days and dehumanize those that don’t fit into this utopia that never existed. I believe we are all fortunate to be graduating from an institute of higher learning that taught us how to recognize, combat and fight against divisions and for inclusiveness. We were all taught about social justice during our time here, but I also know that with the completion of our studies at Adler, it is now our time to be agents of change as we transition into the next journey.
This room is full of future policy analysts, public administrations and servants, counselors, art therapists, psychologists and other professions whose purpose is to make a difference in the individual lives of people and health in communities, and this representation gives me hope when I think about this new wave of people ready to take the workforce by storm, filled with the drive to leave this world better than we found it. I know that I am ready to go out there and fight so that no more trans women of color are being murdered, so no more people are sent to another country because of the color of their skin, so that queer people can’t lose their home or job because of who they are, so that this horrible cycle of punishment we call a criminal justice system will cease to exist. I will be there standing right next to every marginalized person to ensure that their voice is heard loud and clear. I may not have a clear idea of how exactly I’m going to do that but have no doubt that I will make sure that any policy that I affect will be representative of the people.
The quotes we saw all around Adler every day are from people who didn’t “avoid politics” or tried to limit their worlds in an attempt to stay comfortable. They knew that it was, and still is, necessary to fight with every breath that we have for what is right. We need to stay vigilant and not become complacent, living within systems that work for a few but not the majority simply because we are told, “that’s how it’s always been done”, and hope for the best. It’s our turn to be at the front lines—regardless of what profession you’re going into it is important to remember the words of Mahatma Gandhi and “be the change you want to see in the world”.