On Friday, May 14, after more than a year of social distancing, remote learning mixed with clinical care, and challenges not faced by any other class, a large group of dentistry faculty, staff, residents, students and their guests gathered in person and it was for the best of reasons – to celebrate the Class of 2021 during the 46th Annual UF College of Dentistry Commencement.
“The past 14 months have tested our resilience and our patience, but I have been enormously gratified by how all members of our college have pulled together, maintained a positive outlook and achieved our shared goals of excellence in education, research and patient care,” said Isabel Garcia, D.D.S., M.P.H., dean of the college, in her opening words.
The ceremony marked the graduation of 87 members of the DMD Class of 2021 and 61 dental residents who completed advanced education programs in dentistry or a dental specialty.
The 2021 graduates were joined by 14 members of the DMD Class of 2020 who celebrated with an online commencement ceremony last year, and returned to be formally hooded in person by UFCD faculty members. They weren’t the only 2020 graduates who felt the need to have an in-person celebration on UF soil. On May 6, 2021, nine residents who completed their Advanced Education in General Dentistry program in Hialeah in 2020 participated in a University of Florida graduation ceremony – go Gators and go Gator Dentists!
The joy of graduation was mixed with sorrow for the DMD Class of 2021, which lost classmate David Guirguis in a tragic accident on August 7, 2020. The University of Florida awarded him a posthumous doctor of dental medicine degree that Garcia presented to David’s parents, Moheb and Meray Guirguis, surrounded by a standing ovation from commencement attendees.
Tom Brown, D.M.D., welcomed all graduates on behalf of the UF College of Dentistry Academy of Alumni and Friends. Brown, a graduate of DMD Class of 2008, said, “Dentistry is one of the great, if not the greatest, professions on earth. You have the ability to impact the lives of your patients in important ways. In the midst of the pandemic, the American Dental Association released policy confirming what we already knew: dentistry is essential health care.”
Victor Chan served as the president of the graduating class during all four years of dental school and gave the class address. He, like all of the day’s speakers, talked about the way COVID-19 upended everyone’s lives and created uncertainty about how it would affect the timing of their graduation. Chan shared that they’d changed their group text name to the UFCD Class of 2021-ish, “Yet we find ourselves here today in 2021 – becoming Doctors of Dental Medicine and I couldn’t be prouder.”
He went on to thank everyone who had played a part in their education including faculty and staff, and their family and friends. He noted that the Class of 2021 spent 4,180 hours in lectures, and that they had 17,438 patient encounters and completed 37,548 procedures during their time in dental school and closed by saying, “the students here remind me of family. I love you Class of 2021.”
What followed was a familiar and favorite part of commencement ceremonies the world over as each graduate’s name was read and they crossed the stage to applause with huge smiles and warm waves to family and friends.
Before leading the graduates and dentists in attendance in the Dentist’s Pledge, Jolene Paramore, D.M.D., past president of the Florida Dental Association, encouraged the graduates to consider the last year as a process that’s made them stronger by making them antifragile, “We think of being fragile as easily breakable under pressure and its opposite is resilient – to resist the pressure, the stress and stay the same, not break. However, when you are antifragile, you not only survive, you become stronger when stressed, shocked or attacked.”
Paramore also assured them that providing oral health care for their patients will be rewarding because they will relieve pain and suffering, restore patients’ dignity, help them smile and bring peace to their lives.
Before closing the ceremony, Dean Garcia recognized the members of the class who will serve as commissioned officers in the U.S. military: Giovanna Bermudez Quiroz, Katharina Buckley, So Lim, Reece Miller and Elizabeth Morrison. She also recognized graduate Brett Birch, an Air Force Veteran.