Gay Graduation Gratitude

17 Jun

MHSGraduation“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” (Walt Whitman)  In the last two years I am grateful that I have learned how to start being comfortable with my largeness and my contradictions — to sit in ambiguity and reflection.

I started this journey with great trepidation.  I was going back to get my MSW as a middle aged gay man who felt like a cross between Mary Tyler Moore and Rhoda Morgenstern; I was scared to death no one would like me and feared it was too late to reinvent myself as a social worker.

I have learned a lot about dignity — how to help people retain their dignity and keeping mine, which means working with resistance and understanding how people need resistance to protect something.

My first experience after being accepted into the program was my visit to the IT Department.  You see, I did not know how to access my student account.  I explained this to the very nice young woman who was trying to help me in earnest.  She very politely explained that she did not have the answer to my query, but would make a phone call (she was standing no more than two feet from me).  She picked up the phone and said: “Yes, I have an elderly gentleman here from the MSW program and he can’t get into his account.”  Of course, I looked around to see who she was referring to, and it dawned on me that she was talking about me.  I had become “the elderly gentleman” just two days before the term had started.  Of course, I wanted to take the tennis ball off my walker and throw it at her, but decided just to walk away and appreciate that she was genuinely trying to help.

While I am exceedingly grateful for my professors and their time, dedication, and belief in me, I have to say that I am also in awe of and grateful for so many members of my cohort.  I listen to their individual and collective narratives full of passion and reflection and I have learned a great deal from these absolutely lovely people. It would be remiss of me to not acknowledge and thank these people for also embracing me and making me feel so welcomed and integrated into the community.

There have been many times during the last two years that I have submitted to my misanthropic woes and have often reflected: “Maybe I can’t do social work.  I don’t know that I do believe everyone is capable of a transformative experience — what if I’m not capable of a transformative experience?”  Then I hear one of my peers talk about standing in solidarity with me around marriage equality and I get verklepmt and I reflect: “How lucky am I? How on earth did I get here?”  I must confess, I don’t always feel worthy of being in such amazing company and I hope I have been able to add just a tiny significant gem to those I have touched and have touched me.

In the larger scheme, I know most of us are desperately wanting to change systems that are wholly unfair.  We are wanting to eradicate poverty, racism, homophobia, and ageism and underscore the power of interconnectedness and interdependency.  The energy and dedication to creating equity both locally and globally is palpable.  One can feel that amazing energy walking down the halls of the school of social work, or running into each other at the Occupy Movement, or posting activist events for us to attend.  When I look around me today, I feel so much optimism that maybe, just maybe we can actually do it!

I have been fortunate enough to have many “social work” heroes through my lifetime: Bayard Rustin, Nina Simone, Gloria Steinem, Howard Zinn, bell hooks, several of my professors and peers here at PSU, and of course Walt Whitman.   The common thread that ties all of these folk together is that they are all radical progressives — the gatekeepers of truth.  None of us can remain neutral.  If we do not work to interrupt oppression, we are as culpable as the oppressors. As radical progressives, we must not give into systems that collude with oppression, but rather we must stand in solidarity with all who are oppressed.  Collectively and individually, we are the Bayard Rustins, the bell hooks, and the Walt Whitmans.

Whitman also wrote, Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged. Missing me one place, search another. I stop somewhere waiting for you. I find at this point in my life, I am both searching and waiting and I could not be in finer company to do so.


16 Responses to “Gay Graduation Gratitude”

  1. Central Oregon Coast NOW June 17, 2013 at 7:56 am #

    Reblogged this on Central Oregon Coast NOW.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt June 17, 2013 at 8:01 am #

      Nancy, thank you for your support and for reblogging this!

      • Central Oregon Coast NOW June 17, 2013 at 8:27 am #

        I almost said “Congratulations, Old Man”, but thought better of it since I think I’m older than you!

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt June 17, 2013 at 8:59 am #

        Nancy, that would have been fine. It would have made me laugh. 🙂

  2. Jennifer Carey June 17, 2013 at 8:10 am #

    Michael congratulations!! I am so proud to call you a friend and mentor. Your achievements and continued goals are so impressive. The world is a better place because you are in it.

  3. Bruce Kestelman June 17, 2013 at 9:32 am #

    Congratulations Michael, you radical progressive you. You go . . . Help continue to lead the way and call out oppression wherever it may exist and help transform our world, one person, one group, one organization, one state, one nation at a time forever helping to maintain the gains and fighting the new fights for social justice for all.

    So, what’s next? What do you do now to fill the time?


    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt June 17, 2013 at 10:21 am #

      Bruce, thank you so much for your kind words, support, and for your radical voice for social justice. Fortunately, I am already busy working on contacts for EqualityWorks,NW that address the intersections of oppression and help to privilege counter-narratives.

      With great warmth,

  4. villagerambler June 17, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

    Congratulatons Michael, the world certainly needs more people like you and your fellow graduates. I only know you via the blogosphere, yet your passion and optimism shine through everything you write. I truly believe the movement for change is gaining momentum, and it is because of people like you and the heroes you write of.
    Best, Mark.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt June 17, 2013 at 2:58 pm #


      I hardly know what to say. What lovely comments from a lovely human being equally dedicated to social justice and equity. While I fail more often than I would like, I remain engaged, as I know you do.

      Warm regards,

  5. onlinewithzoe June 17, 2013 at 5:35 pm #

    Dear Elderly Statesman,
    that is so rich! I would have blown my lid but I am touchy on issues around age. I have had police speed up next to my car and ask me if I am lost – all based on the color of my hair, not the content of my GPS.
    Oh lucky you. Oh lucky world. Another Radical Progressive with a graduate degree. Don’t let on that its just a cover to legitimize change. It is in your DNA, your soul and now on paper.
    A word to survival – eradicate the word eradicate. One at a time. That is the long haul. One at a time.
    Well Done, Young Man. Well Done.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt June 17, 2013 at 5:57 pm #

      Thank you so much, dear heart! Oy! The story about the police asking if you are lost breaks my heart! With you and the other people I treasure, I feel in such good company! Much love to you, Zoe.

  6. rosie49 June 17, 2013 at 5:36 pm #

    Heartiest congratulations on your hard work culminating in your freshly-minted MSW! You are in inspiration in so many ways: please keep up the good work in life (and blog).
    We are never too old to keep growing ~ as you live and breathe by your own example. Mazel Tov!!

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt June 17, 2013 at 5:59 pm #

      Rosie, Thank you for the very kind comments and good energy. What a lovely community we are building.

  7. Michelle June 18, 2013 at 10:46 pm #

    Congratulations, Michael! I am so happy and proud of you. I work with social workers day in and day out and I know how hard the work can be. You truly are a courageous man to take this next step in your life. Stay blessed.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt June 19, 2013 at 6:38 am #

      Michelle, thank you so much for the congratulations. Yes, all us in the care giving field do work exceedingly hard. As Sweet Honey in The Rock says: “We who believe in freedom cannot rest.”

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