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School of Social Work Spring 2018 Commencement

Keynote by Andrea Jenkins

Andrea Jenkins

Andrea Jenkins is a writer, performance artist, poet, and transgender activist. She is the first African American openly trans woman to be elected to office in the United States. Jenkins has experience working in community development in North Minneapolis, and in delivering social services in South Minneapolis.

Jenkins moved to Minnesota to attend the University of Minnesota in 1979 and was hired by the Hennepin County government, where she worked for a decade. Jenkins worked as a staff member on the Minneapolis City Council for 12 years before beginning work as curator of the Transgender Oral History Project at the University of Minnesota's Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies.

Andrea holds a Masters Degree in Community Development from Southern New Hampshire University, a MFA in Creative Writing from Hamline University and a Bachelors Degrees in Human Services from Metropolitan State University. She is a nationally and internationally recognized writer and artist, a 2011 Bush Fellow to advance the work of transgender inclusion, and the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships.

Student Speaker Lawrielle West

Lawrielle West

Lawrielle West hails from the west side of Detroit. She has a BA in English and studied community organization at the School of Social Work. West is known for her unapologetic readiness to address injustice, regardless of who or what stands in her way. She has planned, led and supported many protests, actions and critical thought—which have helped to amplify the experiences of those who are continuously silenced.

Her future plans involve reimagining herself and helping other people of color to reimagine and themselves and demand and fight for a world without white supremacy. Her passion for true diversity, equity and inclusion permeates through her involvement with Black Youth Project 100, where she activates change through a black queer feminist lens. She hopes to continue to fight for liberation through radical honesty, reallocation of resources, direct action, and transformative justice.

Heather Wise, a SSW peer, describes West as, “A great asset to SSW because of her fierce commitment to intersectional and transformative social justice. She is an empowering advocate for People of Color, the LGTBQ+ community and folks who are differently-abled. Lawrielle embodies Nina Simone's powerful ballad "To Be Young, Gifted, and Black." She is an incredibly intelligent, inspirational, resilient and fearless leader in the community. I am grateful for her presence at the SSW and the way she shows up and fights for the rights and dignity of others. Lawrielle is a woman of great integrity who absolutely represents black excellence.”

West has been blazoned with many awards, accolades, and speaking engagements, but the moments that have transformed her and resonated with her the most are those where she been able to be actively engaged with community members—specifically working with underserved communities, youth, social justice and leadership development.

Read Lawrielle's speech

Poem by Olivia Strauss

Olivia Strauss

Olivia Strauss came to social work with a passion for building supportive relationships and hearing the voices of adolescents. Before returning to graduate school, she worked in a variety of urban after-school programs seeking to engage and empower youth. While at the School of Social Work, she has focused her studies on clinical work with children, youth, and families. This past year, her field placement has been at a residential crisis shelter for youth ages 10-17 where she provided individual, family, and group counseling. Her clinical work is grounded in creating healing environments with and for youth. Olivia's approach to mental health care is attachment-based, deeply trauma-informed, and centered on whole-person care. She is a current Minority-Youth Fellow through the Council of Social Work Education. After graduation, Olivia hopes to continue working therapeutically with youth. She is honored to be performing an original poem today and is beyond grateful for the experiences and knowledge gained here at the University of Michigan.

Read Olivia's poem

Commencement Resources

Photos from the Ceremony

View the Spring 2018 commencement gallery on Flickr

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