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Family, friends help Class of 2024 celebrate at in-person White Coat Ceremony9 min read

March 16, 2022

Family, friends help Class of 2024 celebrate at in-person White Coat Ceremony9 min read

Palak Shah slips into her coat with help from fourth-year student Esther Suh

Ann Arbor, Mich., March 16, 2022 – Members of the DDS Class of 2024 at the School of Dentistry, already accustomed to some non-traditional scheduling because of the COVID-19 pandemic, were finally able to celebrate their White Coat Ceremony in-person on Friday evening.

The annual tradition, attended by several hundred family members and friends at Rackham Auditorium, is usually held in the summer about a month after the new class arrives. But in 2020 when this class was set to begin dental school, the pandemic delayed its in-person arrival for several months and health protocols prevented large gatherings until recently. The school hosted a virtual White Coat Ceremony for the class in October 2020, then added this in-person event.

The atmosphere Friday evening was celebratory as parents and family members from around the country gathered to witness – and often cheer – as each student crossed the Rackham stage and put on their personalized clinic coat with their name stitched below the M-Dentistry logo. The ceremony signifies the students’ commitment to pursue and uphold the highest standards of care and ethics of the profession, emphasized in the Oath of Aspiring Dentists that they recite in unison as part of the program.

Keynote speaker Dr. Stephen Meraw

“Tonight we gather to celebrate what would normally be the start of the dental education of our new class,” Dean Laurie McCauley said in her welcoming remarks. “But like countless other things in our lives that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, you are past the starting line by a year and a half. So consider this evening a bit of a mid-journey booster shot to help propel you down the path to graduation in the spring of 2024.”

McCauley noted that the class has shown strength and resiliency during an extremely difficult time when the pandemic put many obstacles in their path. “Your tenacity is important because life – and dental careers – are unpredictable journeys full of challenges that must be faced, problems that must be solved and obstacles that must be cleared. In short, life is about navigating change.”

Keynote speaker Dr. Stephen Meraw, the immediate past-president of the Michigan Dental Association, told the students that their commitment to dental school and the profession during such a challenging time is “ever more meaningful, as we need the best and brightest to help move forward the mission of our profession, as essential health care workers.”

James Brady gets an assist from fourth-year student Will Buurma.

“Each of you has proven that you deserve to be here, and that the promise of great things resides in every one of you,” Meraw said. “Your journey may take many paths, and success will take a variety of forms, each very important. Some may become famous scientists, some renowned clinicians, some leaders in our profession, and others impactful members of your community.”

Meraw, an Ann Arbor periodontist and adjunct faculty member at the school, offered two key points of advice for the class: “Strive for your best and do what is right.”

“Striving for your best will include keeping an open mind in your approach to learning and defining yourself more in terms of your potential rather than your limitations,” he said. “Doing what is right includes joining our profession’s commitment to ethics, and being the example to our communities of what is right.”

Faculty member Dr. Theodora Danciu

Faculty speaker Dr. Theodora Danciu, a clinical professor in the Department of Periodontics and Oral Medicine, said the White Coat Ceremony has important symbolism for not only the rest of the students’ dental school years, but throughout their future careers as well. Although they will wear the coat literally on only a limited basis, figuratively they will never take it off. “Not even when you retire,” she said, “because that white coat will be in you even if it is not on you.” It  represents the hard work – “the blood, sweat and tears” – of being a skilled and empathetic patient advocate who works closely with patients and other healthcare providers to provide excellent oral healthcare.

And there is another “magical thing” about the coat, Danciu said. “It will make you understand some things about your own self. It will effectively measure your sense of responsibility, your sense of self-discipline, your grit, your ability to rise to adverse circumstances, your ability to live up to your own expectations. It will also make you see, form and appreciate your own expectations.”

Danciu praised the way students have supported each other and stayed engaged with their dental school duties in the face of numerous challenges over the last year and a half. Faculty are committed to continuing that transformative learning experience, she said. “You have the creativity and intelligence to come up with ideas that no one else has thought of. You have the resilience and commitment to your profession to take risks and learn from failures. You have humility and sense of purpose to help one another through this training and beyond.”

Nicole Englemann and Damola Fayemi recite the Oath of Aspiring Dentists with their classmates.

Thomas Havlichek, president of the Class of 2022, encouraged the class members to reflect on their impressive accomplishment of being admitted to a top dental school after years of late nights, tough courses and community service while earning their undergraduate degrees. “Each one of you comes from different backgrounds and experiences, yet every single one of you deserves to be in the seat where you are sitting,” he said. “Each of you has at least one thing in common and that is the goal of becoming a competent and compassionate oral healthcare provider.”

Also joining the Class of 2024 for the ceremony Friday evening were 20 members of the next cohort of the school’s Internationally Trained Dentist Program (ITDP). They enrolled in January and usually hold a separate White Coat Ceremony, but were able to join the Class of 2024 ceremony that had been postponed because of the pandemic.

The international dentists have graduated from dental schools in their home countries, but need additional training and credentials to practice in the U.S. A few have been living in the U.S. prior to enrolling, but many come directly from their native countries. They attend the dental school full time for 28 months, starting with a specialized ITDP curriculum for a few months, then join an existing class of dental students for its final two years. Those joining the ceremony Friday evening will graduate with the Class of 2024.

After the ceremony, Oluwatobi Dauda gave her family a tour of the Sim Lab. Here she poses for a photo by her father Elijah at her assigned lab bench.
Class of 2024 member Elizabeth Williams was the subject of a family photo session as she gave her mother, maternal and paternal grandparents, and boyfriend a tour of the Sim Lab.

DDS Class of 2024 Profile

• The 108 members of the DDS Class of 2024 were admitted from 1,600 applicants.

• The gender breakdown is 57 men and 51 women.

• Michigan is home to 71 class members and 37 are from elsewhere around the country as well as Albania, Canada and China.

• Class members earned their undergraduate degrees (and six master’s degrees) at universities all around Michigan and from coast to coast. As is the norm, the University of Michigan led the way, with 26 graduates, while 18 class members hold degrees from Michigan State. Thirteen other Michigan colleges and universities have at least one graduate in the class, from Northern Michigan University to Hope College to Wayne State University. Several Big Ten and Midwestern universities are represented as are five universities in California and others in Colorado, North Dakota, Alabama, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, Virginia and New York. Two Canadian universities are represented – Windsor and Dalhousie.

• The class average entering gradepoint was 3.73.


The University of Michigan School of Dentistry is one of the nation’s leading dental schools engaged in oral health care education, research, patient care and community service.  General dental care clinics and specialty clinics providing advanced treatment enable the school to offer dental services and programs to patients throughout Michigan.  Classroom and clinic instruction prepare future dentists, dental specialists and dental hygienists for practice in private offices, hospitals, academia and public agencies.  Research seeks to discover and apply new knowledge that can help patients worldwide.  For more information about the School of Dentistry, visit us on the Web at:  Contact: Lynn Monson, associate director of communications, at, or (734) 615-1971.