By Douglas Hackleman - August 12, 2019

The late afternoon drizzle on commencement Sunday, May 29, 2019, did very little to dampen the mood of 191 School of Dentistry students from 34 countries —“graduates” who LLUH President Richard Hart, MD, DrPH, said “are going out” into the world “to make man whole.”

Abridged remarks of the conferring of degrees speaker and the presidents of the 2019 dentistry and dental hygiene classes follow.

“Look at those beautiful teeth”

“I wanted to tell you about my dentist because he’s awesome.” La Sierra University Chaplain Samuel Leonor focused on his dentist of two decades during his address to the graduating classes. “Every time I visit him he begins with this sentence: ‘Look at those beautiful teeth.’

Pastor Samuele Leonor

“I love this man,” Pastor Leonor said any number of times as he explained how his dentist “practiced human connection.”

“I go to see my dentist every six months and he’ll ask, ‘How’s your family? How’s work? How’s your health? How’s your church?’ I told him when I had a baby.

“‘You had a baby! That’s great!’”

“Our baby’s in kindergarten, doctor.”

“‘Oh, that’s such a great age.’”

“Our baby went to college last year.”

“‘Oh, wasn’t it hard? Can you believe it?’”

My dentist is “practicing a human connection,” Pastor Leonor explained.

“You will be in the business of giving people relief from pain, helping them to eat comfortably, helping them to smile confidently. But,” Pastor Leonor reminded his gowned listeners, “you will also be one of the most trusted members of your community—of any community. People will believe in you, that you have their best interest in mind. . . . You need to practice realizing how much you mean to them.”

Pastor Leonor suspected that patients “will have zero fascination with the hi-tech tools you have learned to use. They only care about the impact that technology will have in their lives—whether it will make them well and whether you really cared.”

My dentist “practices human compassion,” he continued. “He cares more than just about filling holes in my teeth. He cares about the holes in my life.

“Do you remember the day you chose this path?” Pastor Leonor asked the students. “I have read many personal statements in my work as chaplain at La Sierra. And sometimes you overplay the thing about how you care for humanity,” he grinned, “but I know you do. You really do, which is why you are here.”

“What happened here is you got the tools, the experience, and the skill to deploy your compassion.

“I love this man,” Pastor Leonor reasserted. “On my dentist appointment days, I get up with a song in my heart. . . .  And I’m that patient—the fearful one, the panicked one—that is, until 21 years ago when I met my dentist. Oh, he’s so great. He’s a graduate of this place. He has a magnetic smile that comes from the depth of his being. ‘Look at those beautiful teeth.’ I walked away from that first interaction flossing more, brushing more, eating less hard candy, chewing less hard ice, more generous, more loving.”

But Pastor Leonor has begun to worry.

“I live now with the stress that he’s gonna retire soon, because he’s old. I asked him one day, ‘Are you gonna retire? Because I’ve got to prepare for that.’

“And he said, ‘Nah. Naaaah. This is my life.’”

Pastor Leonor concluded on that meaningful note: “It’s not his living; this is his life.”

 “May you find life—not just a living—as you practice human connection and compassion.”

“Mission field ahead”

For their loved ones, faculty members, and friends who had been a support to the graduating dental hygiene students, 2019 class president Hsiang Hsu, opened by saying “We cannot thank you enough.

Mr. Hsiang Hu

“For most of us,” he continued, “this is where we complete our schooling and venture out into the real world. [But] for a few of us in my class this is a milestone in our professional education where we may enjoy a well-earned respite and then return to start the DDS program in August.”

Mr. Hsu “reflect[ed] on what we have learned at Loma Linda. From Loma Linda’s distinguished faculties” knowledge and “cutting-edge clinical skills.”

But then he focused on what was learned “from our classmates, from each other.” These included those “in our class those that in addition to the rigors of our program also showed the responsibilities of being parents, . . . those with such incredible interpersonal skills that in the short time we had here built an incredible network, . . . those with brains that made everyone envious, but at the same time displayed such depth of humility, . . . those who struggled with the challenges placed before us, but with quiet perseverance and endless resourcefulness overcame every one of them.” But especially “those that not only took care of our patients’ dental hygiene but also their spirituality, and would take the time to pray with their patients on their way out.”

Mr. Hsu was especially grateful to learn “how to be a spiritual companion to those who are placed within our care.

“Shenandoah Valley Academy in New Market, Virginia,” he recalled, was “the first school I attended in this country, a place that is forever dear to my heart. At the exit of our church parking lot there hangs a sign that reads, “Mission Field Ahead.” I feel as if we are standing in front of that sign, ready to go into the world to serve.”

“Through a thin, invisible veil”

“In just a moment,” Justin McAuliffe, president DDS class of 2019, addressed his compatriots, “you are going to be called up on the stage one by one to receive your diplomas. And as you traverse it, you will pass through a thin, invisible veil. And all of a sudden, you no longer will be D4s; you will be dentists.

Dr. Justin McAuliffe

“Yeah, that goal that we’ve been pursuing for quite a while, through every filling that we’ve prepped, every impression we’ve taken (and retaken) . . . you’ve reached your goal, you’ve made it.”

But McAuliffe “want[ed] to make one thing clear: being a doctor does not make you special; rather being special is what has made you doctors. Your degree is not going to change who you are; it’s merely a recognition of who you are.

“Your willingness to give up precious years of your life up on the clinic, late nights in lab going through physical, mental, emotional stress, training your hands and your heads and your hearts just so that you can heal people that you hardly know, that specialness, that willingness, that is what makes you doctors.

“But a diploma is also great,” he laughed.

“I will miss you dearly,” said Doctor-to-be McAuliffe, as he closed with a wish for his classmates through a Korean proverb: “As the saying goes: ‘At the end of hardship, comes happiness.’

“I hope you find that this holds true for you both today and in all your future endeavors. I will miss you dearly. Best wishes until we meet again.”

Experience (or revisit) LLUSD's 63 conferring of degrees

To enjoy the speakers’ remarks in their entirety, the conferring of degrees, photos of each graduate receiving a diploma, and many photos from the occasion, simply click on the following hotlinks: