As someone who assesses his work by the good it achieves, school social worker Chris Walsh ’80 had more successes than he will ever know; he’s also had plenty of affirmation.
During a trip with students to an amusement park, a 20-something man approached him to ask, “How does it feel to save a life?” It wasn’t until he heard the man’s name that Walsh recognized the student with whom he’d worked in the late 1990s.
“And he said to me, ‘I came to you when I was in eighth grade and told you I was gay, and you helped me accept myself. You contacted my mother that day, and you brought her in and helped her accept me and who I am,’” Walsh recalls. The man went on to say he’d been on the brink of suicide and repeated his question: “So how does it feel to save a life?”
“I hugged him, and I said, ‘You did the work. You’re the one who used me as a lifeline, but you did all the work,’” Walsh responded.
He retired in June after 30 years with the Lemon Grove, Calif., school district and after receiving the Social Worker of the Year Award from the San Diego County Office of Education. The peer recognition meant a lot to Walsh. It was further validation that social work, his second career, was the right one.
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In his first years after Hamilton, Walsh, who majored in theatre and English, worked as an actor with the New York Shakespeare Festival, off Broadway, and in regional productions. To make money, he took jobs in soap operas and commercials, but grew tired of the amount of time it took to generate the work. “I like being useful every day,” he says.
Social work let him do that, and now he’s figuring out how he’ll do it in retirement. “I’m going to continue to work; I have to decide exactly what that will be. But it will be the same sort of philosophy of ‘What else can I do to make the world better?’” Walsh says.