Interview with Ms. Suzie Cook by Diya Patel, Samantha Torres, and Jacky Cheng

What does a school social worker do?

John Lewis said, “Within the breast of every person is a spark of the divine.” That’s the job of a school social worker–to find the spark of the divine in every child, tease it out, and show it to them so they can embrace it. I do it through working with the child individually through therapy sessions (groups and individual), and also working with the child’s interaction with his whole environment–home, school, history, etc.

Can you give some advice to students who are struggling to focus and are too scared to ask for help?

I was always the kid in school raising my hand and asking for help. I have a really hard time with reading comprehension, so it takes me a long time to process abstract concepts. It was embarrassing for me to continually ask for help. But I noticed that whenever I did stop the teacher just to say, “Wait a second, can you say that one more time?” or “I missed that! Can you say it again?’ or “Would you mind explaining that another way?”, that students would whisper a thank you because they needed it too. So I think one thing to keep in mind is that just because it SEEMS like everyone else gets it, you don’t know what other people are struggling with. You helping yourself helps others too. It takes courage, but you have courage.

How would you describe your personality and how does it affect your work?

I think the only natural thing about me, the only thing that comes without effort, is my innate enthusiasm for serving. It struck me when I was 8 years old walking my neighbor’s dogs and has struck me like a lightning bolt over and over again–I must be actively engaged in serving others. It’s when I most feel most like myself, when my heart feels the most full, when I have the most 
fun. Love, listening, passion, empathy–things that most people think are gifts are really just skills that have to be learned and practice. But my need to be of service is the drive at my core.

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

Being innately driven to be of service has pros and cons as a school social worker! It means that I’m independently motivated–I don’t slack off, get lazy, or need praise like I do in other areas of my life. But it also means that I’m extremely emotionally invested–I lie awake questioning things I could’ve done better, agonizing over mistakes I’ve made, ways I could’ve shown love and mercy but instead was impatient for progress.

My family does a lot of exploring–most Saturdays you’ll find us poking around a random neighborhood in the city looking for a good bookstore, a cozy coffee shop, an interesting museum exhibit, a good-smelling farmer’s market, or hunting down and fiercely debating the best ice cream/tacos/French toast/doughnuts/fries/ramen/pizza in the city (ample hills/coney shack/French louie/dough/randolph beer/chuko/juliana’s, in case you’re wondering. Don’t tell my kids or my husband–it will come to blows.) I take exercise as seriously as religion, so I’m an avid biker, runner, and push-up doer. Don’t mess. And I have a bunch of sisters that live close by, so we play soccer in the park, make waffles, laugh about everything, and dance around with the kids making dinner listening to Chance.

What college did you go to and what did you major in?I went to Brigham Young University and studied sociology–the study of the relationship between people and their environments. That’s when I really fell in love with learning. I was always interested in lots of things, but only really ever found myself really engrossed was when I was studying people. I also wen
t to New York University for my Master’s in Social Work and majored in social work with an emphasis on adolescents and trauma.

What are your two favorite books?

Native Son, by Richard Wright and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. I found a beat up copy of Native Son at a cafe in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and was changed forever. I can’t describe how much this book means to me, but it showed me how light from another can spark fire and 
illuminate the humanity and a desire for love and freedom in the darkest, most depraved soul. I closed the book and thought, ok. That’s it. This concept is what I will give my life to. Some people innately know who they are, the rest of us have to search. But it’s the spark of faith and belief from others that can help us connect to our core truth.
Just Mercy is my bible. Its core principle is in its title–just be merciful. This book helped me to realize that I so rarely have to judge if someone is a good or bad or lazy or ungrateful or selfish or who made what mistake and why they should know better, a preoccupation that is infused in the conversation of everyday life. I just don’t have to do it. All I have to do is to try to understand why. The more information we have and the more we understand, the more we are naturally merciful. People are full of flaws and we are all continually learning at each other’s expense and that makes us relatable and human. It’s pointless to do anything but just try to understand, be merciful, and help if you can.

Is there a quote that inspires you the most and if so, why?

[A leader] with anger issues, who’s always blowing up at people, or reacting in ways he can’t control, will unintentionally create an angry or abusive personal culture. [A leader] who’s conflict averse, on the other hand, will create a quiet, but bitter and back-stabbing environment. The organizations that I have worked with that have been the most difficult culturally, have been the organizations that have been most determined to repress the negative aspects of their own behavior. Their own individual leadership behavior and drive those behaviors underground only to have it pop up in politics and in nastiness. And we don’t even see it coming. So those are the things that terrify me. If you’re not consciously, intentionally creating your culture, a culture is going to get created around you, or despite you.”–Jerry Colonna, Executive Coach

Everything on the inside is already on the outside. There are things we run from, things we’re scared to face and try hard not to face, things that are scary and uncomfortable. But you can’t run from something inside you–it’s inside you! The truth will always out. And one way that truth will come out is in your personal climate. The climate that surrounds us will always be colored by the internal issues that we have not resolved. All our fears, insecurities, hurt, and pain that we carry around color our actions and words–you can’t hide anything because people can feel it and see it. I think the best thing that you can do if you want to be of the greatest service to others, is to examine your mind, your actions, and your heart with an attitude of acceptance of your total fallibility and humanness. If you can intentionally decide what kind of environment you want to carry with you in every interaction and every conversation, you can affect people for the good, but more importantly you can build yourself into the human you want to be and piece by piece, create a masterpiece with your life.