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Commencement 2023: Marking an educational milestone on the way to careers that will improve lives10 min read

May 8, 2023

Commencement 2023: Marking an educational milestone on the way to careers that will improve lives10 min read

The mortarboard message of Dental Hygiene student Shams Albadry captures the celebratory mood outside Hill Auditorium after commencement.

Ann Arbor, Mich., May 8, 2023 – The power of collaboration and interprofessional teamwork in creating excellent healthcare was a prominent theme delivered Friday at the School of Dentistry’s 2023 commencement ceremony.

Graduates were applauded for their persistence and resilience in the face of a world pandemic during their time at the dental school and for choosing a challenging career of service to others and to their communities.

The school graduated three PhD students, 38 master’s degree students in the various dental specialties, 39 dental hygiene students and 128 dental students. The ceremony at Hill Auditorium was attended by family and friends from around Michigan and the country, as well as the families of international students from around the world.

“Today we salute each graduate’s decision to go forward in a career that will touch and significantly improve the lives of thousands of people in your work as practicing dentists, hygienists, researchers and educators,” Interim Dean Jan Hu said in her welcoming remarks. “We celebrate that you have chosen a most worthy profession that requires you to use your intellect and education to improve the health of others. We admire the strength it took for you to make this commitment, then to follow through with the challenging educational path to reach this day.”

Dean Hu noted a significant distinction for the DDS Class of 2023: It includes, by far, the most women of any graduating class in the 148-year history of the school. From the early days of dentistry more than a century ago, it was a male-dominated profession with only a few women – or none – in dental school classes around the country. That inequality began to change with federal Title IX legislation in the 1970s. Gender parity was finally reached at the U-M dental school about 20 years ago with comparable numbers of men and women in most dental classes since then. However, the demand among women for dentistry as a profession has continued to increase, with women comprising slightly more than 60 percent of the students in the 2023 graduating class.

Keynote speaker Dr. Rajesh S. Mangrulkar, a professor at the U-M Medical School, said graduates earned the right to feel gratitude, pride and awe as they received their degrees. “Feel good about how you are here because of your incredible work ethic, your knowledge and skills, your zeal for learning, and your kindness and compassion,” he said. “You should also feel a sense of pride because you not only benefitted from the incredible education provided by your U-M faculty and teachers, but because of what you added to that experience for your colleagues and your school; a sense of pride for how you contributed to the culture and values of this great institution.”

Dr. Rajesh Mangrulkar delivers the commencement address.

Mangrulkar discussed the importance of teamwork in health care, drawing on his work as the visionary and strategic leader for interprofessional education across U-M’s 10 health science schools, including the School of Dentistry. He said he believes the University of Michigan ingrains collaboration and teamwork as a value across every school and college.

“And because of that team mindset,” he told graduates, “you are poised to be transformative in whatever path you choose. In our profession, the reason teams matter is quite simply because great teams improve health. Period. For any of the health professions, including the one you are entering, it is not about the solo virtuoso. It’s about the orchestra, with each performer doing their part, bringing their best, listening to each other, adjusting along the way, and always keeping in mind the singular purpose of the team: the music, or in our case, health.”

Mangrulkar added a poignant touch to his remarks about teamwork and collaboration by revealing that he suffered a stroke just 20 days before he was scheduled to speak at the dental school commencement. Part of his face was numb and he could not walk. He said he felt panic, anxiety, anger and fear as he was taken to the hospital emergency room and later moved to a stroke unit and rehabilitation hospital over the course of his treatment.

He kept track of the names of all 125 people from 24 professions and jobs who helped him recover and regain his ability to walk short distances. He said every person engaged him in his own recovery, pushing and cheering him on with respect, courtesy and collaboration.

“As I sat and thought about what they did to lift me during these 20 days, it became clear that their magic was that they included me as a partner on these teams, and they showed me love … a love for my humanity, for how I heal, and for what makes me a whole person. I felt it from every single one of those 125 individuals. They worked together with me as a partner on their teams, including me in all decisions, asking for my goals and what I thought was possible, curious about the challenges that I saw ahead of me. And through all of this, I felt loved, and for me, that may be the most inspiring part of this chapter of my life.”

Mangrulkar encouraged the graduates to incorporate that same mindset into treating their patients. “Your dedication to your profession, combined with your commitment to your teams, and the love you have for each other and your patients; these values are what you will carry forward with your Maize and Blue pride in whatever path you choose. These values will set you apart as Michigan graduates and will help you become what our society so desperately needs.”

Dental Hygiene class president Haley Harland (left) and DH Faculty Award recipient Stefanie VanDuine.

Graduates were also congratulated by Dr. Laurie McCauley, Provost of the University of Michigan, who returned to the school where she was dean for nine years, including most of the time the graduating students were at the school. She said the celebration of the graduates’ achievements is “right before we tell you that your generation must save the world. Graduation in 2023 is half well-deserved party and half urgent call to action.”

In praising students for their accomplishments and predicting their future success, McCauley reminded them of their uncertainty when they first arrived on a strange campus among people they didn’t know. Over time, those strangers became colleagues, mentors and friends, and the students mastered the challenges of dentistry and dental hygiene.

“This power to transform that you learned and perfected on our campus is the power that you will carry forward for the rest of your lives. Ultimately, the habits of mind and skills you developed here, along with the empathy, humility and perseverance that became part of you forever, will make you a great healthcare professional, educator or researcher. Graduates, we do expect you to change the world, and you will, just as you have already – step by step, restoration by restoration, person by person. Only you can choose your principles and the habits that will reinforce them. But we have given you an excellent start. You will become a mosaic of your values. Choose them wisely and learn them well.”

DDS class president Samantha Sciancalepore and Dr. Elliott Hill, recipient of the Dr. Paul Gibbons teaching award.

Other speakers at the ceremony included Dental Hygiene Senior Class President Haley Harland; Dental Hygiene faculty member Stefanie VanDuine, chosen by the senior class as the Faculty Award Recipient to recognize excellent teaching; Samantha Sciancalepore, DDS Class of 2023 president; and dentistry faculty member Dr. Elliott Hill, chosen by the graduating DDS class as recipient of the Dr. Paul Gibbons Award in recognition of excellent teaching.

A video recording of the commencement is available on the School of Dentistry Facebook page here.

DDS graduate Sean Penoyer is hooded by Dr. Renee Duff and Dr. Don Heys.
DDS graduate Charu Maini (center) and Interim Dean Jan Hu smile for a photographer. Faculty member Elliott Hill is in the background.
As he crosses the stage, DDS grad Torrey Talifer (right) stops to shake hands with Dr. Todd Ester, Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
Interim Dean Jan Hu congratulates DDS graduate Wyatt Spresser.
After the ceremony on the steps of Hill Auditorium, DDS graduate Ezinne Nwadinobi poses for a photo with her parents, Johnkay and Evelyn.
Dental Hygiene graduates, from left, Alexa Parker, Katrina Miskey, Jazmyn Ragland and Beth Al-Heleal join the post-graduation ritual of wading in the Cooley Memorial Fountain on Ingalls Mall.
The parents of DDS graduate Zahraa Ahmad offer their congratulations with a double kiss.


The University of Michigan School of Dentistry is one of the nation’s leading dental schools engaged in oral healthcare 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.