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Special Place in UTSD History for Class of 2013

Thursday, May 30, 2013 - 1:09pm

Graduates of the Class of 2013 turn to look at the audience.

From left: Alexandra Aponte, Evan Cettie, Leah Collison, Cynthia Corral, Jenny Crow and Olufemi Fadahunsi and their classmates follow Dean John Valenza's request that they turn to look at the audience in Cullen Performance Hall, during UT School of Dentistry's graduation ceremonies May 24. Photo by Brian Schnupp. SEE PHOTO ALBUM.

More than 150 graduates honored at the 108th Graduation Convocation of The University of Texas School of Dentistry at Houston on May 24 celebrated both the beginning of new careers and their special status as the first class to graduate from the school’s new state-of-the-art building.

The milestone commencement, held at the University of Houston’s Cullen Performance Hall, also featured American Dental Association President Robert Faiella, DMD, MMSc, as the keynote speaker.

The Class of 2013 included 86 DDS graduates and 35 students who earned bachelor’s degrees or certificates in dental hygiene. Another 36 dentists were awarded postgraduate certificates or master’s degrees in dental specialties.

These students lived through a historic transition, having started school in the old Dental Branch Building where UTSD was located for nearly 60 years before moving to the new facility in 2012. To mark this distinction, Dean John A. Valenza, DDS, announced that graduates would receive a special challenge coin commemorating their special role in forging a new era for UTSD.

American Dental Association President Robert A. Faiella, DMD, was the guest speaker for UTSD's 2013 graduation convocation.

American Dental Association President Robert Faiella, DMD, was the keynote speaker. Photo by Brian Schnupp.

In his address, Faiella told graduates they were entering the profession at time of significant challenges, such as increasing government regulation. Another problem is insufficient access to care that leaves a quarter of American children with tooth decay by age 5.

Providing for those less fortunate was a moral imperative for dentistry, Faiella said. 

“Every generation has their turn,  and now the stewardship of our profession rests on your shoulders,” Faiella said. “Most importantly, keep compassion in your hearts for those you are committed to serving.”

In their addresses, Dental Hygiene Class President Bichvan Nguyen and Dental Class of 2013 President Michael Dang spoke of the bonds forged with fellow students, and of the exciting and meaningful careers that lay ahead.

“In dentistry I found purpose, passion and pride,” Dang said. “With our knowledge and skills we can treat oral disease and create beautiful smiles.”

Nguyen spoke of the often hectic and intense two years she and her dental hygiene classmates had endured, but noted that the school has prepared them to excel in any dental office.  “We should all be proud to say this is the school we graduated from,” she said.

In keeping with tradition, many of the graduates with a relative who is a dentist were presented their degrees by the family member. One graduate, John Vann, reached back a bit further and received the degree from his grandfather, George Ritchie, DDS, 81, a graduate of UTSD’s second orthodontics class in 1959.

“I had the privilege of presenting (Vann) his white coat four years ago, so it was a really wonderful experience to see him graduate today,” Ritchie said.

Despite having a grandfather who was a dentist and a mother who was a dental hygienist, family legacy actually played little role in his career decision, said Vann, who will serve as a dentist in the Air Force.

“It really was God’s leading, it just felt like dentistry is what I was meant to do,” he said.

UTHealth Executive Vice President for Academic and Research Affairs George Stancel, PhD, greeted graduates on behalf of UTHealth President Giuseppe Colasurdo, MD, and formally conferred the degrees. Colasurdo was in Austin on university business and unable to attend the ceremony.

The inspirational message was delivered by Associate Professor Gary Frey, DDS, interim chair of the Department of General Practice and Dental Public Health.

UTSD Alumni Association President Jerry Katz, DDS, and Associate Professor Harold Henson, RDH, MEd, administered The Dentists’ Pledge and The Dental Hygiene Oath, respectively. 

To see additional photos, visit http://go.uth.edu/Grad2013.