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Classes of 2023 honored at 118th graduation ceremony

Published: May 23, 2023 by Kyle Rogers

An over-the-should look at The Dentist’s Pledge and the Dental Hygiene Oath in the 118th Commencement Ceremony program.
Over 170 graduates of the UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry Classes of 2023 walked the stage during the 118th Commencement Ceremony. Photo by Brian Schnupp.

UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry welcomed 183 graduates — 101 doctorate of dental surgery, 28 dental hygiene, and 54 advanced education — of the Classes of 2023 to its alumni base during the 118th Commencement Ceremony on May 19 inside NRG Arena.

Photos from commencement can be viewed on Flickr, and a replay of the ceremony is available on YouTube. A digital version of the commencement program is available online.

Ralph A. Cooley, DDS, assistant dean for admissions and student services, delivered the inspirational message to begin the ceremony. He talked about 35,000, the number of choices any one person makes on a daily basis, and the important choices that have led the graduating class to this point in their health care professional journey — choosing dentistry as their career path and choosing the School of Dentistry as their home — but he noted there will be difficult choices ahead.

“The professional challenges you will face each day will force you to make difficult choices of whether to go down easy roads, popular roads, or roads less traveled,” Cooley said. “Will you always put patients’ interest ahead of your own, as you take care of them in an ethical, professional manner? Will you give your best effort, 100%, for each patient that’s sitting in that chair regardless of who they are or how you might feel that particular day? Will you support dentistry and give back to your profession and to your community with your time, talents, and skills?”

Duc “Duke” Ho, DDS ’96, immediate past president of the Texas Dental Association, delivered the commencement address. He shared three personal tips for surviving the dental profession — do good dentistry, learn how to connect with patients, and get out to give back — emphasized with first-hand experiences and imparted wisdom picked up along the way.

“Soak in this moment, because today is no ordinary day,” Ho said. “It’s the end of your four-year journey and the last time you will all be together as classmates, as a family, with shared struggles, and shared dreams.

“Today also represents the beginning of the next chapter of your life. Limitless potential. Don’t be afraid, but be excited to embrace your future and the responsibility that comes along with it. Never forget, you are part of a profession, not a trade, so protect it for the next generation. Treat it with love and give it the respect it deserves. Your journey will be long, filled with both highs and lows, victories, and defeats. I know this because I’ve lived it. I’ve experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and soon you will experience the same.”

Dental Class President Benjamin D. La Guardia, DDS ’23, and Dental Hygiene Class President Valeria Zamarripa, BSDH ’23, addressed their respective classes.

UTHealth Houston President Giuseppe N. Colasurdo, MD, who also offered welcome and congratulatory remarks, conferred the degrees and certificates.

Associate Dean for Student and Academic Affairs Robert Spears, PhD, called the names of the School of Dentistry graduates as the traditional tune “Pomp and Circumstance” played overhead. In several instances, graduates were presented their certificate, diploma, or hood by a family member or significant other, some of whom are alumni of the School of Dentistry.

Graduate hooders for the ceremony were Juliana A. Barros, DDS, MS; Douglas Bogan, DDS ’73; Cleverick “C.D.” Johnson, DDS ’86, MS; and Shalizeh “Shelly” Patel, DDS.

Elizabeth A. Hunsaker, DDS ’85, president-elect of the UTSD Alumni Association; and Lori Jones, RDH, BSDH ’06, MBA, president of the UT Houston Dental Hygienists’ Alumni Association, led The Dentist’s Pledge and the Dental Hygiene Oath, respectively.

As part of his closing remarks, Dean John A. Valenza, DDS ’81, gave the graduates one last “competency,” four questions he asked they consider as they move forward in dentistry:

  • How can you use your skills and knowledge to improve the lives of others?
  • What can you do to continue learning and growing in your profession?
  • How can you use your role as a dental professional to advocate for important causes and issues?
  • How can you maintain your sense of purpose and passion in your work?

Valenza noted, “I know you won’t have all the answers today, but I’m confident you’re ready to begin answering these and others as you begin your professional lives.”

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