EDWARDSVILLE - Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Chancellor James T. Minor, PhD, conferred Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degrees upon 55 graduates of the Southern Illinois University School of Dental Medicine (SIU SDM) during their commencement ceremony held Saturday, June 1 at the First Community Arena at the Vadalabene Center on the Edwardsville campus.

The Class of 2024 began its journey toward their DMD degrees during a pandemic and ended it with a flood emergency in the School’s main clinic, requiring all patient care throughout their final semester to be rescheduled to the other SIU SDM patient clinics. Nonetheless, the Class of 2024 performed remarkably well throughout and excelled on their clinical and national board exams. Graduates were lauded for their resiliency and perseverance.

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“It is often said that the fear of failure, or even the fear of success, are the greatest obstacles to success. But I would argue that we are afraid to embrace our successes and that hinders us the most,” said Saulius Drukteinis, DMD, MS, PhD, Dean of SIU SDM. “Class of 2024, you have succeeded. Embrace your accomplishments. Just for a moment don't be overly humble. Embrace this achievement.”

“I would argue with anyone here this morning that your fortitude has already been tested,” said Chancellor James T. Minor, PhD. “And I would suggest that you are more prepared than you know for what is next.”

Minor informed the audience that 10 of the graduates are planning residencies in orthodontics, pediatric dentistry, general practice residency, and others will pursue advanced education in general dentistry. He highlighted Kedric Norwood, who will serve as a dentist with the United States Air Force.

Minor reminded the new doctors of their crucial mission of service. As he pointed out, 2.8 million Illinois residents live with a shortage of dental health providers in their communities and neighboring St. Clair County is federally designated as having a shortage of dental health professionals.

“The data are clear and sobering,” said Minor. “Said quite simply the children and families in the state of Illinois need you. You have the power to change the way people present themselves to the world. The power to improve a child’s sense of confidence and to generally improve people's health.”

The keynote speaker was Ann Boyle, DMD, MA, who dedicated her career to dental education and academia, including many years at SIUE and the School of Dental Medicine. Notably, she joined the faculty at SIU SDM in 1995 and became Dean in 2002. In 2011, she served SIUE as Interim Provost and Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs until she moved to Arizona in 2014.

Boyle offered three recommendations “for becoming not just good dentists, but remarkable doctors of dental medicine. Be grateful, be passionate, and be generous.”

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She asked that the dentists also acknowledge how much their classmates were part of their success. “They listened to your complaints. They made you laugh, and they kept you from giving up. There’s nothing like mutually endured struggle to forge the strong bonds of friendship.”

A number of the graduates were hooded by alumni or faculty with whom they had a personal relationship, such as the following:

Logan Buerk, DMD, ‘24, hooded by his mother, Bethel Buerk, DMD, ‘92
Caroline Roti Desse, DMD, ‘24, hooded by her husband, Jack Desse, DMD, ‘22
Amiri El Daibani, DMD, ‘24, hooded by her husband, Mohamed Omran, BDS, MSC, associate professor at SIU SDM
Brady Gerber, DMD, ‘24, hooded by his sister Emily Nesic, DMD, ‘20
Madlyn Lawrence, DMD, ‘24, hooded by her uncle, Roger Brown, DMD, ‘92
Kaitlyn Stanton, DMD, ‘24, hooded by her fiancée, Derek Benning, DMD, '22
Alyssa Varble, DMD, ‘24, hooded by her father, Patrick Varble, DMD, ‘92

Two degrees were conferred in absentia.

Student speaker Joshua Koerner, DMD, 24, reflected on their first year of wearing two masks, gowns, gloves and face shields and taking frequent COVID tests. On behalf of the class, and in recognition of this achievement, he thanked faculty, mentors, clinic staff, family and friends. Koerner also acknowledged individually the classmates who lost family members during their four-year program.

“Change is inevitable, growth is necessary,” said Koerner. “You have shown that you can excel in the craziest of conditions. What matters is not how we got here, but that we got here.”

Koerner also stated that the Class of 2024 stands united in their dedication to patient advocacy and their core values as dental professionals: “Our desire to help others, our commitment to excellence and our drive to make a difference.”

The SIU School of Dental Medicine is the only dental school in Illinois that is outside the Chicago metropolitan area, and within a 200-mile radius of St. Louis. The convenient location offers a small-town feel with big-city access. The safe, quiet campus environment in Alton is just a short drive to St. Louis, where students can enjoy major sporting events, arts, entertainment, dining and shopping.

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville provides students with a high-quality education that powerfully transforms the lives of all individuals who seek something greater. A premier metropolitan university, SIUE is creating social and economic mobility for individuals while also powering the workforce of the future. Built on the foundation of a broad-based liberal education, and enhanced by hands-on research and real-world experiences, the academic preparation SIUE students receive equips them to thrive in the global marketplace and make our communities better places to live. Home to a diverse student body, SIUE is situated on 2,660 acres of beautiful woodland atop the bluffs overlooking the natural beauty of the Mississippi River’s rich bottomland and only a short drive from downtown St. Louis.?

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