Following is the commencement address given by Dr. Kathleen Roth at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Dentistry’s 55th Honors Convocation on May 11, 2008.
Roth is the immediate past president of the American Dental Association and a dentist in general practice in West Bend, Wis. She completed her term as ADA president in October 2007 – the second woman to serve as ADA president since the organization’s creation in 1859.
Dean Williams, distinguished guests, family, friends and our 2008 graduates!!
It is a pleasure for me to be here today to celebrate this important day in your life!
Congratulations to all of you wearing that cap and gown tonight. I have to recognize how refreshing and special it is to see those of you receiving your dental degrees, all of our dental specialty groups, as well as dental hygiene and dental assisting awarded your degrees today in the same ceremony at the same time. The entire dental team is here, and that speaks volumes for the work we do and how important it is to understand what each of you bring to the profession! Congratulations to UNC for recognizing that!!
This moment is filled with pride for each of you; but today, no one can be more proud of you and your accomplishments than your family, spouse, parents and other loved ones here today. We all realize the efforts and support it took to reach graduation day, and having your loved ones supporting you throughout the years has made all the difference in the world.
So to all of you in the support role of these graduates, smile with pride and know that their hearts are filled with gratitude!
Hard work, dynamic and challenging dental education, has been your day-to-day commitment over the past few years. Today each of you can now begin in dental practice, perhaps that advanced training in graduate school programs, or embark on an academic career! Some of you will find that “perfect fit” established dental practice to partner. Every one of you will begin tomorrow morning building the dental dreams that seem perfect for you.
As new colleagues, you will be faced with many challenges and limitless opportunities!
Today, entering the profession is certainly not the completion of your education, however. Dentistry is a commitment to lifelong learning – continuously seeking out the new science as it unfolds, integrating new technologies into your daily practice environment and appreciating developing treatment alternatives supported by better understanding of the human body.
Dentistry has changed remarkably in the time since I wore my cap and gown on graduation day. You will find that embracing new technology and science is energizing both to you personally in practice as well as to the profession. But the commitment to continual educational growth and understanding is critical for all of us.
As you create your professional life, you will also be establishing yourself as a leader in the community. You will find that, over time, your community will respect your views, and much will be asked of each of you. Take this earned respect and volunteer, bring others together and enhance the community you choose to live in with dynamic interaction beyond your dental profession.
If all of us take the opportunity to open doors, develop programs and improve our “own little corner of the world,” our children and grandchildren will be the ones to profit.
Keep an eye to service. We are a profession built on improving oral health, and each of us hold a responsibility to find ways to treat those with resources, as well as the less fortunate. The dean and faculty here today testify to the fact that all of you have the skills and knowledge to succeed in your area of the dental profession. With those skills, we all have an ethical responsibility to improve oral health for needy.
My challenge to each of you is “find a way for this to play a role” in your day-to-day life, always reaching for those in unfortunate times to be included in your professional care.
I invite all of you to actively participate in the professional organization – whether it is at the ADA, in the state associations, and certainly at your local community level, you need to interact and network with colleagues in our field. Your voice and vision are important for growth of the profession. Never did I imagine when I joined my local component dental society after graduation that someday I would become the ADA president! Perhaps a future ADA president is in this class right now!!
When someone approaches you to volunteer for a program or project, I encourage you to always try to say “yes.” I have found that every opportunity has opened doors and resulted in an enormous personal growth experience.
Give back to this school. Our profession and your institution need the ongoing support and commitment of time, talent and treasure to ensure dentistry remains the strong, well-respected profession for our children and grandchildren in years to come. You each have a debt of gratitude to share as alumni of this fine institution.
And foremost, I challenge each of you to find a balance of life. Building your dental practice, engaging in the community you choose, providing a voice to the profession – that will take a considerable amount of time. But always remember to put your family and faith first. As each day draws to a close, the leftovers of our time are not meant to be spent with family. Strive to balance your time to give those you love the best of your energy, and find happiness in every day!
So, let me be the first to welcome you to the profession, a day of celebration!! Congratulations to each of you, and may you enjoy dentistry as much as I have throughout my life!