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Class of 2017 celebrates at commencement

The degrees are conferred but the lifelong learning continues

Dr. Robert Quinn urged graduates to consider their 'higher purpose.'

Ann Arbor, Mich., May 8, 2017 -– The School of Dentistry honored the Class of 2017 for its mastery of dentistry skills and research Friday during commencement, but the recurring message of the day was about the graduates’ personal growth over the last four years and into the future.

An enthusiastic crowd of families and friends came to Hill Auditorium on a rainy day to celebrate as the school presented 118 Doctor of Dental Surgery degrees, 37 Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene degrees, two Doctor of Philosophy in Oral Health Sciences degrees, and 32 Master of Science degrees in Restorative Dentistry, Dental Hygiene, Endodontics, Orthodontics, Pediatric Dentistry, Periodontics and Prosthodontics.

In her opening congratulatory remarks, Dean Laurie McCauley told graduates they have been “entrusted with a great responsibility and blessed with a great opportunity.” For many years to come, she said, graduates will improve the lives of thousands of people as practicing dentists, hygienists, researchers or educators. “It is my honor and privilege to congratulate you for successfully completing the rigorous educational journey that brought you to this day. We salute your accomplishment, knowing that your education doesn’t end here today. It is just the beginning of what we know will be a rewarding, fulfilling lifelong process,” McCauley said.

Dr. Daniel Bair and his parents Drs. Timothy Bair and Kristy
Beck-Bair, pose for a photo with Dean Laurie McCauley.
Daniel Bair was one of 11 graduates whose alumni parents
were on stage to hood their children.
Commencement speaker Dr. Robert Quinn expanded on the theme of lifelong personal development as he talked about research and his teaching focused on leadership, organizational change and effectiveness. A professor at the Ross School of Business at U-M, Quinn investigates excellence in human performance. People who find a higher purpose in their lives, he said, are more effective in their work, and research shows they benefit from a long list of health improvements.

Personal improvement often requires reflecting on questions such as: Who am I? What are my deepest values? What’s my highest purpose? “When we find our reason for being on the planet, when we align our gifts with a purpose that makes a difference, we not only find intrinsic motivation and have a reason to get up in the morning, but other things happen as well,” Quinn said. “We start to like ourselves better because we have a better self. And when we like ourselves better, we look at other people and we see something in them we could not see previously. We see the potential in them they cannot see themselves. … We find the resources in people, in the organization, to which we were previously blind.”

“As you leave here with a piece of paper that says you know how to clean a tooth, or drill a tooth, or do research, we’re confirming your secular ability,” he said. “The quality of your life will be determined by the capacity you have to take your secular work and transform it into sacred work. If you do that, your life will take a very different trajectory. I give you the wish that you’ll be able to take that journey and make a difference in the world.”

Dental Hygiene senior class president Uzma Arif thanked her classmates, faculty and families for their support. Of faculty, she said, “You motivated us when we felt like we could not continue, and you celebrated with us when we succeeded. You all have been more than just our teachers. You have been our mentors and our role models. … We cannot thank you enough for being our advocates and for your unwavering belief in us, especially when we doubted ourselves.”

Dental Hygiene Senior Class President Uzma Arif thanked classmates, faculty and family during her speech. She also introduced the DH Faculty Award winner, Stefanie VanDuine (far right).

Arif said classmates learn much about each other while enduring the same rigorous program.
“From the outside, it may seem like we are all very different people from very different backgrounds,” she said, “but on the inside, I can say that we are all essentially the same. … As you begin your journey into the real world, remind yourself of why you chose this field and push yourself to give back to the communities around you.”

In introducing the DH Senior Class Faculty Award, Arif called adjunct clinical lecturer Stefanie VanDuine “a continuous pillar of support for all of us.” VanDuine, who noted that she began teaching the same year this class entered the school, said she feels “like a proud mom who has been able to see her kids grow up, mature and accomplish so much.” She said she appreciates the feedback from students so that she could improve her teaching methods.

“When I think about what I will miss most about your class, I think about your energy, your passion for dental hygiene and patient care, your openness and honesty, and your willingness to learn. … Whether you are in search of a higher degree, or a lengthy career in private practice, don’t ever lose this desire to learn,” VanDuine said.

DDS Senior Class President Luke Aiura recounted the ups and downs of the class evolution from “knowing nothing” about the profession to developing precise, technical skills and becoming compassionate, caring professionals. He said the educational experience was greater than the number of courses, papers and tests the class endured. “I believe our true education has been in the thousands of human interactions we have had within the walls of the dental school during our time here, with our faculty, staff, patients and each other. Sure, they haven’t all been super fun, but we’ve learned something from every single one.”

Dr. Renée Duff, who received the Paul Gibbons faculty award,
is hugged by Senior Class President Luke Aiura.
Among the most important lessons learned, Aiura said, is how to win over reluctant patients. “We learned how to thoughtfully listen, understand and better communicate. We learned how to manage an uncomfortable experience for a hysterical patient in Oral Surgery, tease a laugh out of a frightened seven-year-old in Pediatrics, and make a grandfather cry tears of happiness when he tries on the new dentures we made for him. I’ve seen the hugs at the check-out counter and I’ve seen the thank-you notes. And that shows we’ve done more for our patients than just a filling.”

Aiura introduced Dr. Renée Duff, selected by the senior class for the Paul Gibbons Award, which goes to a faculty member who has contributed significantly to the success of the class. Aiura said Duff, who is a clinical associate professor and assistant dean for student services, looks out for the best interests of all 680 or so students in the school. “On a daily basis, Dr. Duff listens to our concerns, makes a connection and personally follows up to make sure it is resolved. Imagine the range of issues that face a school full of stressed out students, but she makes time for everyone if you just ask. … I know firsthand how much she cares, even about the smallest detail of our experience.”

Duff said she and class members have together learned the importance of resilience and perseverance when confronted with obstacles, to make the most of each day, and to meet others where they are rather than making uninformed judgments. “I’ve observed your progress, appreciated your growth as professionals and counseled you in academic and career matters. But more than that, I’ve had the honor of getting to know you on a more personal level and can appreciate each of you and your individual growth,” Duff said. “In making these connections, I probably learned as much or more from you than you have learned from me. I’ve learned countless lessons in our unique conversations as we worked on difficult situations, formed solutions to seemingly impossible problems, overcame major and minor setbacks, enjoyed significant milestones, mourned heart-aching losses and celebrated momentous life events together.”

Friday’s celebration continued after the Hill ceremony at a reception at the Michigan League. Afiya Morrell-Weston, who finished the Dental Hygiene degree completion program, said she was happy and relieved to be finished. A practicing hygienist for the last 10 years, she continued to work while she added a bachelor’s degree to her previous associate’s degree. With three children, ages 10, 8 and 4, she said she couldn’t have advanced her education without the help of her husband and parents. She’s not sure of her next step, other than continuing as a hygienist and perhaps pursuing her interest in research.

Dr. Jaslynn Kalsi gets a hug from her grandfather,
Mohinder Hans, in the crowded foyer of Hill Auditorium
after the ceremony.
“It was hard work, but it helped me with my professional development,” she said. “It’s one of those things where you find yourself advancing your career, advancing your education. It’s always a good place to start when you are thinking about a career adjustment or change.”

Newly minted DDS Bryant Dudzik is heading to Idaho State University for a one-year Advanced Education in General Dentistry residency. The road to becoming the first dentist in his family was difficult but rewarding, he said. “Dental school is stressful, it’s busy. The first couple of years, especially, are tough because you are not seeing patients, so it’s a lot of work, a lot of time you spend in the evenings and on the weekends getting stuff done. But the highlights for sure would be today, obviously, and all the friends I’ve made through dental school, some of my best friends. I’m really looking forward to the future and seeing the future as bright.”

“I learned a lot about myself and what that means in relation to my professional career. I’ve refined my goals and I think I’ve come up with a pretty good vision for what I want the rest of my professional life and my life in general to look like. So I credit that to the University of Michigan dental school and to the people I’ve met here,” Dudzik said.

His parents, Valerie and Ron Dudzik, of Gowen, Mich., are educators who didn’t know what to expect from dental school. “It’s amazing what he has accomplished, as well as all of his classmates, in this amount of time. The diligence and hard work that goes into this is quite amazing,” Valerie Dudzik said. Ron Dudzik said they are proud that their son endured the doubts and difficult times, when he would call and skeptically say, “I don’t know about this.” “The first couple of years, especially, are very, very difficult on everybody,” Ron Dudzik said. “I was talking to a couple of the other fathers today and they said they got the phone calls and they had to talk (their students) through it. I think it is very common.”

As Sana Alsamarae celebrated her DDS degree, she was surrounded by one of the largest family gatherings at the reception. In addition to her parents, sisters, aunts, uncles and family friends, she was joined by family members of her fiancé, Tarek Metwally, a fourth-year student at the school. Their wedding is this weekend.

Toothy, the dental school mascot, is a photo op for
Dr. Bryant Dudzik and his mom, Valerie (left), his sister
Emily (yellow coat) and girlfriend Allie Hylen (D4) at the
Michigan League reception.
Alsamarae started her college education with a teaching degree. “It’s always been important for me to teach people, something that I really, really love,” she said. “I feel like, as a dentist, I can do that as well. Teach people about their oral health and empower people as well.”

The switch to dental school was not easy, she said. She is grateful for the help of faculty, particularly Renée Duff, and from her family for supporting her when she struggled. She said that perseverance was modeled by her parents, May and Mustafa Alsamarae, who moved to the U.S. from Iraq in 1990 during the first Gulf War. She was born here and sees her graduation from U-M as an example of what this country means to many people.

“I couldn’t have done it without them,” Alsamarae said of her family. “The times that my Mom has literally held my hand through this and told me, ‘You can do this. I’ve worked hard through this, you can, too.’ In such a political culture today, we talk about immigrants. My parents came here to give me the chance to succeed. And this is the American dream. What you see here today, all these names that you are hearing, this is the American dream. I’m so happy that I was able to go through it.”

Dr. Sana Alsamarae (center of the back row) poses with members of her family and the family of her fiance, fellow dental student Tarek Metwally, who stands next to her. (Photo courtesy Alsamarae family)


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 communication, at, or (734) 615-1971.