“I almost cried,” said Charles Coleman, PhD, of the moment he placed the purple velvet hood of the University of Maryland School of Dentistry (UMSOD) over the head of his daughter Sarah Nia Coleman, DDS ’22.
Adding to the poignancy of the moment was the fact that Sarah Nia’s 87-year-old grandfather William Brown, MD, assisted in the hooding while wearing full regalia that exactly matched what he wore during his graduation from the Howard University School of Medicine several decades earlier.
“It meant so much for me to be able to get out here and participate,” said Brown, who relied on an intricately carved walking cane to get across the stage.
Coleman was one of 147 graduates in the UMSOD Class of 2022 who celebrated their convocation at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre on May 20.
Perseverance, innovation, challenge, and ultimately gratitude were the dominant themes for the Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) students who went virtual seemingly overnight at the end of their second year. They overcame what looked to be impossible odds by conducting their entire clinical third year online.
UMSOD Dean Mark Reynolds, DDS, PhD, MA, congratulated the students on their extraordinary accomplishments. “Convocation day affirms the commitment, dedication and hard work each of you has made to the oral health professions,” he told 13 Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene candidates and 134 DDS candidates.
Class president Jazmin Jones, DDS ’22, said her fellow graduates rose to the occasion and pushed through challenges because of “grit, adaptability and a willingness to do hard things.” She also acknowledged dental hygiene students whose two-year program started and ended during the pandemic.
“If our class felt like fish out of water at that moment in time, I can only imagine what the dental hygiene Class of 2022 felt like,” she said. “What a shocking welcome, and what courage to take on an educational challenge at such an unprecedented time.”
Patricia Meehan, DDS, associate dean for academic affairs and assistant professor, Department of Advanced Oral Sciences and Therapeutics, administered the convocation oath. She praised the Class of 2022 and said the day was particularly special because the ceremony was in person after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19. “This class has been incredibly flexible, patient, understanding, and just good natured in terms of all of the challenges they’ve faced,” Meehan said.
Omar El-Sayed, DDS ’22, said the overall success of the Class of 2022 would not have happened if not for the support they gave one another. “We ate ice cream together. We studied together. We got up early stayed up late. None of this was possible without our classmates,” El-Sayed said.
His thanks also extended to faculty who went above and beyond to ease the adjustment to virtual learning. “Faculty members were always available. You could email them late at night, early in the morning. They were always responsive,” El-Sayed recalled.
Justin Maxwell, DDS ’22, who graduated summa cum laude and is embarking on a career in dentistry after a successful stint in Major League Baseball, was joined at the ceremony by his wife, three children, and a bevy of family members and supporters. He thanked his family and agreed that his classmates were an integral component of his success.
“Everybody was supportive for the last four years, and we’ve really worked well together. I’m looking forward to continuing to collaborate in our professional careers,” Maxwell said.
For Coleman, who is headed to a general practice residency at Newark (N.J.) Beth Israel Medical Center, gratitude is triple-fold.
“I’m grateful for the hard work of my family, my hard work, and for the amazing patients who let me serve them in the Baltimore community,” she said. “I wouldn’t be here without them.”