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White Coat Ceremony commissions Class of 2021

The Class of 2021 and poses with Dean Laurie McCauley on the steps of the Rackham after the White Coat Ceremony.

Adam Stachler is helped into his white coat by Joseph Yancho. In the background are, from right, Alisa You Yeon Lee, senior class president; Dr. Laurie McCauley, dean; Dr. Michele Tulak-Gorecki, Michigan Dental Association president; and Dr. Steven Sulfaro, representing the International College of Dentists.

Sedonni Harris dons her white coat with the help of MaryCatherine Bender.

Fourth-year student Leslie Cohen helped her brother Adam into his coat.

Katarina Crause eases into her lab coat on stage. At left is senior class president Alisa You Yeon Lee.

D1 Patrick Lucas-Perry gets a hug from his dad, LaVal Perry, after the ceremony as his mom, Patricia, records the moment.

Tomas Ong poses for a photo amidst the crowd on the Rackham steps after the ceremony.

New D1s, families celebrate beginning of DDS journey

Ann Arbor, Mich., July 31, 2017 -– The 109 diverse stories of how and why the new class of students arrived at the School of Dentistry were celebrated Friday at the annual White Coat Ceremony, even as speakers emphasized the shared experience that will mark their next four years together.

Several hundred family and friends gathered at Rackham Auditorium to applaud the accomplishments that brought the 109 new D1 students together at one of the top dental schools in the world. They were selected from 2,178 applicants, earning the right to cross the stage Friday and don their personalized clinic coats for the first time as a symbolic beginning to their careers in dentistry.

The Class of 2021 arrives with undergraduate and master’s degrees from 18 Michigan colleges and universities and from 42 campuses across the country – from California to New Hampshire, from Boise to Miami. Three class members are from Canada and two are from China. Ages range from 21 to 33 among the 57 women and 52 men.

Dean Laurie McCauley noted that the University of Michigan has been educating dentists for 142 years as the oldest dental program in a public university in the country.  “Today you take your place in that long line of classes that, for nearly a century and a half, have embarked on the same challenging but rewarding journey – a health care profession focused on improving lives one patient at a time,” she said. “You have chosen an admirable path for your life and our promise is to be here with you every step of the way for the next four years – or longer if you stay for advanced degrees.”

McCauley said the school’s high rankings – recently listed as No. 1 in the world by one ranking organization and as No. 1 in the U.S. by another in the last several years – is just one indication of its longstanding tradition of excellence. “From the school’s early days, even before the term ‘Leaders and Best’ was coined for the university’s athletic fight song, the founders and first professors aspired to lead the profession of dentistry. We continue that mission today. We are proud to declare our high standards, demanding curriculum and world-class research here at the School of Dentistry,” she said. “Myriad opportunities await you.  I encourage you to embrace as many as possible. Be flexible in your approach and be willing to venture out each day into that vast territory beyond your comfort zone.”

Alisa You Yeon Lee, president of the Class of 2018, provided a senior’s insight into what the first-year students should expect. In the first two years, she said, they will log many hours practicing on models in the simulation lab, studying video replays of lectures and trying to keep up with exam material. In the final two years, more time will be in clinics with patients, including lots of phone tag to confirm appointments.

“I’d be lying to you if I told you that the next four years are going to be smooth sailing,” Lee said. “But all of you got here and that was the hardest part. It reflects on your characters and your ambitions that you are all sitting in those chairs today and that’s the reason why we are all gathered here today: to celebrate your hard work, accomplishments, ambition, sacrifices, and to extend the warmest of welcomes into this amazing profession.”

Dr. Michele Tulak-Gorecki, president of the Michigan Dental Association and an alumna of the school, told the new class it will learn “the art and science of dentistry as nowhere else in the world can teach it.”  She said her love of the profession was passed along by her father who taught her the value and rewards of connecting with patients in a personal way. “Dentistry is not just about one aspect of a person, it is about the whole person,” she said. “I treasure each and every one of my patients. … When you recognize the unique value of the person, you treat them with great care.  And they in return establish a relationship with you and develop a sense of loyalty because of you.”

“There is so much about dentistry to enjoy,” Tulak-Gorecki told the class. “You will change people’s lives. That is not a cliché. It’s 100 percent true. You will change people’s lives. Teeth are important not just for health reasons, but a person’s smile is tied to a person’s personality.”

Dr. Colleen DeLacy of Sandusky, Mich., president of the Michigan Academy of General Dentistry, urged students to take advantage of the AGD and other dental organizations. She said AGD offers lifelong learning, professional networking and advocacy for patient care related to general dentists. Dental students don’t need to wait to graduate to take advantage of AGD’s support related to leadership, career recognition, goal-setting, career options, marketing and financial planning, she said.

Dr. Steven Sulfaro of Holly, Mich., a fellow of the International College of Dentists and an alumnus of the dental school, said the ICD mission is to recognize leadership, scholarship and service in the profession of dentistry. ICD organizes international dental student exchange programs, dental humanitarian initiatives in underdeveloped countries and mentoring for dental students.

“My time here at Michigan was one of the greatest times of my life,” Sulfaro said. “We had a saying when I was at the school here: It was the best of times and it was the worst of times.  … Your time (here) will be some of the most challenging of your life, but try to remember as you’re struggling with the learning curve for a new procedure, or you find gross anatomy really, really hard and overwhelming, or you feel that your instructors are being overly demanding – remember, the rigors of this place serve to prepare you for the future.”

In his remarks closing the ceremony, Dr. Philip Richards, a clinical professor in the Department of Periodontics and Oral Medicine, used a series of questions to urge students to consider the importance of listening and communication. “What do you really know about people and what do people know about you? Do we need to learn and share more? How should you approach me as a person or as a dentist? What if I was your new dentist and you were my patient? Should you trust me? Or what if I was a new patient of your’s and you were my dentist?  Do you think you would automatically know exactly what I want or what I truly value?”

“If we make assumptions about our patients – what they know, what they think and especially what they want and value the most – there’s a good chance that we may be misjudging them,” Richards said. “The bottom line is that we need to work hard to achieve clarity when communicating with, well, pretty much everyone.  This may take more time, effort and skill than you expect.”

Richards said he has always been a shy person by nature, but he has adapted as a dentist. “In patient care and in teaching, my white coat and what it represents has always been like a super-hero cape for me.  It brings me out of my shell, and I hope your white coats will also bring power to you.  But keep in mind that with power comes responsibility.”


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.