Fifty years. That is the timeframe the UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry DDS Class of 1973 reflected on as they celebrated the golden anniversary of their commencement.
In mid-April, the dental class returned to Houston for two days of festivities for their 50-Year Class Reunion, hosted in collaboration with the School of Dentistry and the PACE Center as part of the Milestones Alumni Reunion initiative.
On Friday, April 14, alumni gathered for an on-campus tour of the School of Dentistry. For most, it was their first trip to the building, as the dental school moved to its 7500 Cambridge St. location in 2012.
Dean John A. Valenza, DDS ’81, welcomed his fellow alumni back “home” before Robert D. Spears, PhD, MS, associate dean for student and academic affairs; and Ralph A. Cooley, DDS, assistant dean for admissions and student services, took the 1973 class on a guided tour.
The floor-by-floor tour, which included stops in classroom, clinic, and laboratory space, featured a hands-on opportunity for alumni in the Simulation Clinic, where Cooley and Michelle Thompson, DDS, director of digital dentistry, discussed the latest technology used to train current students while residents demonstrated. The tour concluded with light refreshments and a casual conversation with school leadership.
In the evening, alumni enjoyed a happy hour at the Cambria Hotel Downtown, and those who elected had the opportunity to attend the Lone Star Series matchup between the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers down the street at Minute Maid Park.
On Saturday, April 15, the group gathered for their reunion celebration in the ballroom of Brennan’s Houston. Former classmates, many who haven’t seen or heard from one another in some years, reconnected during an afternoon of camaraderie and fellowship.
The DDS Class of 1973 features general dentists, specialists, members of organized dentistry, those who entered into military service — including the U.S. Air Force’s first dentist to be a hospital commander and first reserve dentist to be command dental surgeon — as well as current and former faculty members, and dentists who have seen patients in cities big and small.
As part of the program, alumni took turns catching up classmates on their respective lives since graduating from The University of Texas Branch (now the School of Dentistry). They described their dental careers in the years that have since followed, and while some are enjoying life as retired grandparents, others are still practicing and “waiting to get it right.”
One alumnus said, “I’ve been blessed like all of us here I’m sure feel being in the profession of dentistry. I wanted to be a dentist since I was in the second grade, so this has been a life fulfilled for me, and I’m still living that dream.”
Another 1973 graduate said, “The happiest day of my life to that point was the day I was accepted to The University of Texas Dental Branch, and the next happiest was the day I graduated from it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a very good student. There’s a lot that I don’t remember about dental school other than it was a real struggle.
“I started my practice right out of school in Houston, and I worked for 45 years to make up for what I didn’t get in dental school. It’s been a wonderful career, and I owe a lot to the dental school and so does my family and my patients. I’m very grateful for the education I got here.”
Highlights from dental careers also included patient success stories and wisdom shared.
One alumnus quoted a fellow graduate of the School of Dentistry’s Advanced Education in Orthodontics Program. “Think of a patient as he is and that he will stay, think of a patient as he should be and that he will become,” he echoed.
The sharing time also saw stories from their years as students revisited. From moments in clinical cubicles to exchanges with classmates and faculty at the “Pink Palace,” the School of Dentistry’s home from 1954 to 2012 known for its pinkish-brown marble exterior.
Collectively, the group took time to appreciate each other and the School of Dentistry for their education and the opportunity to gather for their reunion 50 years later.
“I graduated with this fine class in 1973, and it has been a glorious trip since then,” said one alumnus. “There are many anecdotes of what went on in dental school that I could spend all day talking about and making us laugh, but I will say this, I appreciate the education I got. I didn’t think much about it at the time, but now that I have the wisdom and look back on those years, I can tell you we did get a very, very good education.”
His classmate shared, “I appreciate all the instructors and professors that we had in school, and I really appreciate seeing everybody now. It’s good to see faces and say hello after all these years, including my roommate that I’ve been able to rekindle memories with.”
Valenza congratulated the DDS Class of 1973 on the significance on their 50-year reunion and recognized the footprint they have left on the School of Dentistry.
“Your class has been instrumental in shaping our dental school into what it is today, and we owe a great deal to your unwavering dedication, passion, and hard work,” Valenza said. “I’m proud to say your legacy continues to inspire our current students, faculty, and staff. Your achievements and successes in the field of dentistry have set a high standard for our institution, and we’re honored to have been a part of your journey.”