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Inspiration Comes from our Character, Not from our Age

Paul Chase, MSW '22

  • Pathway:
    Management and Leadership

In the long-ago year of 2020, Paul Chase was finishing a bachelor’s in social work at Wayne State University in Detroit and planned to enroll in their MSW program. Youth and supportive housing were his great interests. Unfortunately, Wayne’s academic calendar would force Chase to wait around a year. 

Then George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis. “It intensified the need for social workers,” Chase says. “It intensified the awareness that things weren't better. There was a terrible undercurrent of violence and corruption in the country.”

A friend told him to apply to the University of Michigan, but he didn’t have the confidence. The friend persisted and he applied. In his first week of classes, he turned 50. He remembers an icebreaker question at orientation about his favorite song in high school. “Everybody was saying, ‘Harry Styles!’” he remembers, “and I'm like, ‘Well, I always loved Prince…’ I feel a bit like an elder statesman." But when it came to the work, Chase found no generational differences.

“The passion was there, regardless of age,” he says. “I was inspired by how committed we all were and how respectful of each other. ‘That's your cause? Good for you! This is my cause.’ ‘Good for you!’ There is a bond of just warmth and sincerity in this program.”

Young people may think of older classmates as not having had lives before they met them. Yet they have had complex, challenging, rewarding, even surprising lives.

Chase worked in the recording industry; he was a singer-songwriter, guitarist, bassist, pianist, recording engineer and producer.

He worked at the Los Angeles Recording Workshop while Metallica was there. “Kids now are like, ‘Oh yeah, my dad likes them,’” he says. The music industry spurred Chase’s interest in social work. He watched colleagues damage or destroy their lives with drugs. “Most of them started drugs young. That's why it's crucial to engage young people and help them develop a sense of purpose."

Chase has developed connections with young people at his field placement, the Student Advocacy Center of Michigan in Ypsilanti. “Our programs intervene in the school-to-prison pipeline,” he says. “The high school years are crucial. If you don't have a champion as a teen, the rest of your life can go off the rails. Every kid needs someone to say, ‘I believe in you. No motive, no reason, I just believe in you.’ That goes a long way with a kid.”

“I have real hope for what I and my classmates will achieve,” Chase says, looking ahead. “That inspiration comes from our character, not from our ages."


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