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2014 Graduates Urged to Consider All Options

Friday, May 30, 2014 - 1:07pm

Commencement speaker Johnette J. Shelley, DDS, U.S. Army Dental Corps colonel, identifies future Dean John A. Valenza and herself in a photo of their clinical group, one of five in The UT Dental Branch Class of 1981. Photo by Brian Schnupp.

Commencement speaker Johnette J. Shelley, DDS, U.S. Army Dental Corps colonel, identifies future Dean John A. Valenza and herself in a photo of their clinical group, one of five in The UT Dental Branch Class of 1981. See more photos at http://go.uth.edu/Flickr. Photo by Brian Schnupp.

Nearly 190 future dentists, dental hygienists and dental specialists participated in The University of Texas School of Dentistry’s 109th graduation convocation ceremony May 23 at Cullen Performance Hall in Houston.  

Dean John A. Valenza, DDS, welcomed the keynote speaker, U.S. Army Col. Johnette J. Shelley, DDS, director of health and wellness for the U.S. Army Dental Command at Fort Sam Houston. Like Valenza, she graduated from UTSD in 1981.

Interest rates then were 18 percent, and her student loan debt was always on her mind, she said.  Having dealt first-hand with the pressure to make money, Shelley urged the graduates to live within their means and not let worries about overhead affect professional care. “Present the patient with all the treatment options and let them make informed decisions,” she said.

Shelley also spoke of her nearly 40-year military career.  In the early years of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, she evaluated dental officers to be deployed overseas, ultimately sending almost 100 dental officers “into harm’s way.”  

Those decisions were never made lightly, she said, yet she was deeply impressed by how many officers returned to tell her, “I wouldn’t have said this going over, but thank you for making me go. I became a better dentist, a better officer and a better human being” for having served. 

While acknowledging that most of them won’t have military careers, Shelley urged the graduates to serve their communities in other ways, such as devoting a percentage of their practice to Medicaid patients, or participating in organized dentistry.

Class of 2014 DDS graduates Khushbu Patel and Victor Parra wait for commencement to begin at Cullen Performance Hall.

Class of 2014 DDS graduates Khushbu Patel and Victor Parra wait for commencement to begin at Cullen Performance Hall. See more photos at http://go.uth.edu/Flickr. Photo by Brian Schnupp.

Others who addressed the graduates included Giuseppe N. Colasurdo, MD, president of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth); DDS Class President Timothy Hill and Dental Hygiene Class President Esmeralda Diaz. Associate Professor Dan Bentley, DDS, delivered the inspirational address.

Special recognition was accorded to Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Leslie Roeder, DDS, MS, as she participated in her final commencement ceremony before a planned retirement in July. Valenza also commended the 2014 teaching award winners:  Professor Donna Warren-Morris, RDH, MEd; Trevor Treasure, DDS, MD; and Shalizeh “Shelly” Patel, DDS.

In keeping with tradition, UTSD Alumni Association President Dwight Peccora, DDS ’10, led the DDS graduates and all dentists present in reciting “The Dentist’s Pledge.” Similarly, University of Texas at Houston Dental Hygienist’s Alumni Association President Holly Rice, RDH, MEd, led the dental hygiene graduates and all dental hygienists present in reciting “The Dental Hygiene Oath.” 

Valenza drew applause when he announced that, as a way to encourage them to stay connected to the school, new graduates will have free access to UTSD’s continuing education lecture courses and Professional Resource Center for five years.

In concluding the ceremony, Valenza urged the graduates to consider all the career options before them.

“Most of you entered your dental, dental hygiene or advanced education program with the expectation of a career in private practice,” he said. “I know that’s still true for many of you, but hopefully your experience here has also opened your eyes to other possibilities — now or in years to come — whether in teaching, public service, research or other path in dentistry.”