UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry welcomed 106 students from the Dental Class of 2026 to the health care profession during the 25th Annual DDS White Coat Ceremony in early January.
The landmark ceremony saw family members join the second-year dental class Jan. 6 in the Houston Ballroom on the nearby University of Houston campus. Photos from the White Coat Ceremony can be viewed on Flickr, and a replay of the event is available on YouTube.
In his opening remarks, Dean John A. Valenza, DDS ’81, underscored the symbolism of the white coat to a patient.
“Our coats carry a message to patients that ‘here is a health care professional who is going to help me,’” said Valenza. “It implies someone who possesses great skill or experience; has high standards and believes in professional behavior; will put the needs of others before their own; and is committed to lifelong teaching, learning, and service.”
C. Roger Macias, DDS, who serves as the team dentist for the San Antonino Spurs, began his keynote speech with a self-diagnosis of “White Coat Syndrome” to describe his passion for dentistry across his 41 years of practice.
Macias shared that his joy is based on three words that are synonymous with the dental profession—ethics, hard work, and gratitude.
“The famous poet Maya Angelou said, ‘I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,’ and I hope what I say today makes you feel proud to be members of the profession of dentistry,” said Marcias.
“You want to make a dentist that makes a difference in their life, to improve as Dr. Valenza said, to improve our profession. Let’s strive for success, not just in our endeavors but also in the profound impact that we leave in everybody’s life by becoming a dentist. Embrace ethics as your guiding principle. Embrace hard work as the vehicle to achieve your aspirations and uplift everyone else around you. Embrace gratitude as your constant companion.”
Sam Asthana, DDS, president-elect of the Houston Academy of General Dentistry, who was joined on stage by Ashley Marcks-Lazar, DDS ’14, president, shared words of encouragement with the 2026 class.
Asthana shared simply that dental school is worth it, a notion he wishes he had heard more as a student. “You’re going to get there, and you’re going to look back and be so glad you went through everything that you’re going through.”
Elizabeth A. Hunsaker, DDS ’85, president of the UTSD Alumni Association, led students through The Dentist’s Pledge.
Robert Spears, PhD, associate dean for student and academic affairs, emceed the ceremony, announcing each dental student and coater, and Ralph Cooley, DDS, assistant dean for admissions and student services, bookended the ceremony, leading the processional of students and providing closing remarks.
The UTSD Alumni Association provided personalized white coats for the ceremony. Event sponsors included the Houston Academy of General Dentistry and the Texas Section of the American College of Dentists. Special thanks are given to the School of Dentistry’s Office of Student and Academic Affairs for organizing the event and the PACE Center for the lapel pins provided to each student.