Dr. Michael Forster

A Memorable Social Work Colloquium Welcome

So I’m offering a welcome address yesterday morning to the School of Social Work’s annual fall colloquium.  It’s always a great event, bringing out lots of School alumni, but as I look over the Thad Cochran Center ballroom, I’m delighted to see that attendance seems exceptionally high; nearly every seat is taken. 

The topic is “advances in trauma treatment,” so my remarks hit a deliberately serious tone, emphasizing what I called “the general, horrid direction of the many ‘macro’ developments that appear to be enveloping us both here in the U.S., and around the world.”  It seems we are surrounded, I say, “by systemic trauma, trauma systematically generated by forces of violence and domination, degrading exploitation of both people and the planet, expanding economic inequality, crushing debt burdens and general insecurity for vulnerable and marginalized populations….”

You get the drift – a pretty heavy, “down” message, designed to fire up the social justice instincts of the largely social work crowd and prime them for the presentations to come.  So imagine my surprise, rapidly turning to chagrin, when – just as I start to approach the peak of rhetorical “flow” – I see sober faces start to break out in smiles and giggles.  A muffled titter wafts across the room.  Huh?  Am I really seeing and hearing this?  I look at Ray Scurfield, up soon as the keynote speaker, so sitting in the front row, and he smilingly points to the projection screen behind my head.

What had been on the screen was a static title slide for the colloquium event.  What’s up there now – appearing suddenly, literally out of electronic “nowhere” – is a picture of LeAnne Cirlot, my assistant for student affairs, with a bold-faced script, “LeAnne is available!”

Later in the day, the mystery is revealed – The photo and message are Ms. Cirlot’s “Instant Messaging” screen; she and Tom Osowski, colloquium convener whose laptop was in use with the ballroom projector, had earlier been messaging about a student advising matter.  When the static Power Point title slide apparently “went to sleep,” the laptop defaulted to the last-used IM application. 

At the moment, however, nothing is evident except that the “flow” of my remarks is shot, probably fatally.  So I improvise.  “Well,” I say, as Dr. Osowski labors to restore the original image, gesturing to the picture of LeAnne, “I don’t know what that it is or where it came from.  But Ms. Cirlot works in my office, and to the best of my knowledge, she is not available.”

If anything at all is remembered from my welcome address, I’m pretty sure it won’t be my remarks on trauma.

Dr. Michael Forster
Dr. Michael Forster

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