And then the sun came out
The threatening clouds that loomed over Loma Linda University most of graduation Sunday, May 28, 2011, rolled back as if on cue at five o’clock, and the lowering sun gilded the School of Dentistry’s 55th commencement service.
It was a commencement notable for the enlarging number of graduating students who were the sons or daughters of alumni. Of the 89 Doctor of Dental Surgery, 42 Dental Hygiene, 24 International Dentist, and 32 Advanced Education Programs, 15 were the accomplished adult children of earlier LLUSD graduates. This increasing number attests to the School’s accumulating alumni cohort and the rewarding professional education experienced by its alumni when they were students.
On baccalaureate Sabbath, the day before commencement, the School’s graduating students and their families and friends participated in a University Church service that focused on the themes that explain why Loma Linda University has a School of Dentistry.
Senior pastor Randy Roberts preached a sermon that emphasized becoming a person of principle. But it was particularly stirring to hear graduating representatives from the School of Dentistry’s programs address assembled family and friends and describe their commitment to the University’s and School’s very reason for being.
International Dentist Program graduate George Luikham (from India) was grateful to faculty who were, he said, “exemplary mentors and an inspiration” who “had modeled the culture, values, and traditions of Loma Linda” that are “distilled in four small simple words, ‘To make man whole.’”
Dental Hygiene graduate Angela Wakefield recalled “the first hygiene breakout session I attended. Dr. Leslie Pollard, [PhD, DMin, MBA, then LLUAHSC vice president for Community Partnerships and Diversity], stood to pray at the beginning of the seminar and began with, ‘Thank you Lord for those gathered here who are looking for a life of purpose.’ At that very moment I knew, service was my calling.”
On commencement Sunday, before the conferring of degrees, three School of Dentistry faculty were recognized for special honors. Ron Dailey, PhD, the School’s executive associate dean, presented retiring Lane Thomsen, DDS, MS, chair, Oral Diagnosis, Radiology, and Pathology, with The Teacher of the Year Award, established to recognize and honor School of Dentistry faculty whose accomplishments have had an extraordinary impact on students, faculty peers, and the School family. Dr. Thomsen, whose retirement was effective at the end of the academic year, had served the School as chair of the Department of Oral Diagnosis, Radiology, and Pathology, for two, ten-year terms.
After reading a number of student evaluation comments that included accolades such as “Funniest teacher I’ve ever had!” “He is a great instructor.” “He is awesome!” Dr. Dailey concluded with the youthful colloquialism: “Lane, you rock!”
Dean Goodacre presented The School of Dentistry Distinguished Service Award to R. Leslie Arnett, Jr., DDS, MS’68, professor, Department of Periodontics, for having made outstanding contributions to the academic pursuits of the school for more than 37 years. The dean recalled being a student of Dr. Arnett’s and noted humorously that “because some students return to become colleagues it is prudent for faculty to treat their students nicely.”
As a conscious sedation on-site examiner for the Dental Board of California, the dean noted, Dr. Arnett “is much sought after on the clinic to assist students with their IV sedation patients.
“The infectious smile, uplifting demeanor, and seemingly endless energy level he has brought with his commitment to the education of his students,” Dean Goodacre concluded, “is also evident in Dr. Arnett’s community service that includes direct involvement with the American Cancer Society, the United Fund, the Pasadena Community-wide Committee on Health Education, the American Diabetes Association as well as the Boy Scouts of America.”
“For more than 40 years Joni Stephens, DH’69, EdS, MS, professor, Dental Hygiene, has worked tirelessly teaching and leading our dental hygiene program and student research,” Dr. Goodacre began, “patiently guiding both predoctoral dental and dental hygiene students with their annual research projects… spending “countless hours toward making research educational, fun, and consequential.”
The evidence of this, Dean Goodacre indicated, was that “a lot of dental schools do exceptional research but few have it filter down to the student level as has happened here.” For 22 years, the California Dental Association has sponsored research competition at its annual meeting among all the dental schools in the state. Loma Linda dental students have placed first 18 times, second 8 times and third 15 times. Dental hygiene students have recorded 11 first place awards, 10 second-place, and 10 third-place awards. There is also a national competition between all dental schools, and 7 times during the last 42 years Loma Linda dental students have won first place in the national competition and 4 times they have placed second. For 10 years there has been a national dental hygiene competition, and LLUSD’s dental hygiene students have won first place 5 times.
For these and other contributions, said Dean Goodacre, “with great pleasure we now recognize Professor Joni Stephens with the 2011 School of Dentistry Distinguished Research Award.”
Dean Goodacre then introduced commencement speaker Chester W. Douglass, DDS, PhD (Temple/Harvard) who served for 30 years as chair of the Department of Oral Health Policy and Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine.
Although he mentioned some of the more prestigious honors Dr. Douglass has received, Dr. Goodacre was particularly interested in “the subtle and often unspoken measures of the impact one’s career has had on others and, in the case of Dr. Douglass his influence on oral health care in the United States … . [including] his classic research and data regarding the unmet dental needs present in America showed us that the need is growing faster than the supply of dental professionals who provide the required care.”
At Harvard, “Dr. Douglass served as mentor to many current leaders in dental education and dentistry.” Dr. Goodacre named a few dentistry luminaries, adding, “and our own Dr. Pat Naylor, associate dean for advanced dental education.”
Dr. Douglass had heart-warming words for the parents and asked them to stand and be recognized for their essential part in the day’s celebration.
He then charged the graduating classes with “the three new responsibilities that you accept with these diplomas: to your patients who are the priority of a successful dental practice, and of your reputation; to your profession with its several components (education, licensing policy, practice networks); and to your society, because too much is at stake not to be involved.”
Brief graduate responses were given by the dentistry and dental hygiene class presidents.
Chris Chu, president of the dental hygiene class of 2011, spoke of the struggles that made the class of 2011 strong. After thanking the most deserving, faculty and family, he concluded by reminding his classmates that “dentistry should be a vehicle ‘to make man whole,’ because ‘service is our calling.’”
Dentistry class of 2011 president, Donavon Yapshing, began with a comparison of dental school to President John Kennedy’s establishment of the Navy Seals “whose training pushed them to their limits, to the edge of failure.”
He also quoted from President Ronald Reagan’s “surly bonds of earth” words after the Challenger tragedy, saying, “Our class has suffered its share of tragedy.”
In conclusion, he cited Steve Jobs’ remarks at a graduation several years ago regarding “the importance of discovering what you love and doing it.”
The School of Dentistry’s 2011 commencement ceremony and dusk settled together, at the very dawn of 187 oral healthcare careers.