Fall 2013

‘Together, We Are Exceptional’

Class of 2013 makes its mark on the world

By Jacqueline Mitchell

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Katarzyna E. Dionne, D13, holds her newborn daughter, Chloe, as she receives her hood. Photo: Emily Zilm

Community service was the prevailing theme at the School of Dental Medicine’s 145th Commencement ceremony, celebrated on the Medford/Somerville campus on May 19. After thanking and congratulating the new dentists’ families and friends in attendance, Dean Huw F. Thomas commended the class of 2013 for its academic achievements and its commitment to resolve complex public health issues.

That dedication, he said, was symbolized by the graduates’ choice to make a class gift to Bridge Over Troubled Waters, a shelter for runaway, homeless and at-risk youth. In addition to the donation, more than 50 Tufts students provided free dental services at the Boston shelter. “You bring honor not only to yourselves, but to the school,” Thomas told the school’s newest alumni. “Don’t forget you are members of a large, proud family,” he said. “Come back home once in a while.”

Robert Kasberg, associate dean for admissions and student affairs, noted that finding “creative and meaningful ways to serve the underserved” is one of the dental school’s core values. The class of 2013, he said, demonstrated its capacity to do that in New England and around the world. In addition to regional community outreach, 25 classmates traveled abroad to volunteer in Central and South America and Asia, he said. Two other graduates, who attended Tufts as National Health Service Scholars, will practice in underserved regions of the country for at least the next two years.

Kasberg also acknowledged the students who mentored and tutored their peers, including the 66 participants in the dental school’s teacher-training program, which recruits high-achieving seniors to assist with their peers’ clinical education and to encourage those students to consider teaching careers. He reminded them that helping educate new dentists is yet another way to alleviate access-to-care issues and urged them to consider becoming part-time dental faculty.

The school awarded Doctor of Dental Medicine degrees to 197 students, and 19 students received M.S. degrees. Another 50 students graduated from the school’s postgraduate certificate and fellowship programs, which prepare them for specialty practice.

The Power of Teamwork

Class president Kevin James Burke also remarked on his classmates’ cooperative spirit. “In a competitive culture that values survival of the fittest, our class epitomized teamwork,” he said, adding that 100 percent of the class passed the national board exams on the first try as a result of study groups and peer collaboration. The class also had an unprecedented 100 percent participation in the class gift. “I am nothing special alone,” he said. “Together, we are exceptional.”

Ahmed Afify, president of the international student class, added that students from other countries came to Tufts specifically because they “knew they could improve their abilities to better serve society.” He thanked the entire “Tufts family for their unwavering support,” singling out “those who work behind the scenes,” including Boston campus security officer John “Jack” Sheehan and the dental school’s laboratory coordinator, Patricia Casey.

Vangel Zissi, D62, DG67, A02P, director of continuing education and clinical professor of endodontics, was awarded emeritus status in recognition of his more than 50 years of service to the school; he also received the Provost’s Award for Outstanding Teaching and Service. Guilherme Bonecker Valverde, assistant professor of prosthodontics and operative dentistry, received the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Clinical Teaching. Kanchan Ganda, professor of diagnosis and health promotion, received the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Preclinical Teaching, and James Michael Hall, assistant professor of oral pathology, received the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Basic Science Teaching.

The Tufts Dental Alumni Association presented its Academic Excellence Award to Jennifer Kusner. The award was given in honor of Peter A. Delli Colli, A69, D73, and John P. Ficarelli, D73, DG76, D10P, DG12P, both former presidents of the Tufts Dental Alumni Association. Delli Colli founded the Supporting Smiles Program, which provides dental care to low-income residents in Natick, Mass. Ficarelli is a founding board member of Project Stretch, which provides dental services to needy children in the United States and Mexico.

At the university-wide commencement ceremony earlier in the day, the social psychologist and Stanford University dean Claude Steele, who has researched and written about how negative stereotypes influence academic, professional and personal performance, delivered the keynote address. Steele and five other distinguished individuals received honorary degrees: environmental activist Lois Gibbs; historian Philip Lampi; psychiatrist, philanthropist and entrepreneur Raymond Sackler; nutritionist and humanitarian worker Ram Shrestha, N90, and philanthropist and business leader Aso Tavitian.

For a complete list of members of the class of D13 who received alumni, professional, organization, endowed and university awards during this year’s Senior Awards dinner, visit go.tufts.edu/seniorawards.

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