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To the Class of 2017

May 3, 2017

by JJ Ubonwan Saeung

December 3rd, 2008 – it’s lunch shift at Sadako Japanese Restaurant on South U. and I was dragging–I didn’t get the “phone call” from Michigan 2 days ago. My dream to have an in-state tuition dental education was escaping. As I maneuvered through small aisles of the restaurant, handing out miso soup and salad, along came Pattie Katcher, strolling in the midst of our lunch rush, deliberating her lunch option. Did she think she was getting away with this? Nuh-uh. I suppressed my urge to approach Pattie till she was on her way out. Pattie was perplexed at my springing up by her out of nowhere. I blurted out: “So… if you didn’t get a call on December 1st, does that mean you weren’t accepted to the dental school?” Pattie asked me to clarify my name, then asked, “Have you checked your mailbox lately?”

The mailbox! The snail mail! Why didn’t I think to check my mailbox!!? Sure enough, among the local groceries inserts and junk mail was that white crisp letter that changed my life. I got accepted to University of Michigan School of Dentistry!

Graduation 2013May 1st, 2017 – Ahh, the hopes and dreams… The smell of invincibility is in the air; it’s the Graduation season! Class of 2017, congratulations! You made it through one of the toughest times of your life! Good work, hooray! In a few days the letters “DR” on your loupes and your miscellaneous emails/username will be legit!

As a Michigan Alumna, I hope you found your experience at Michigan worthwhile. That it was a good decision to become a Wolverine. Still not quite convinced? You will soon find out about the Michigan Difference, especially those of you who will be moving out of state for work or for more training. Trust. Even though there might have been some low points in your dental school career, you will soon realize you got a world class education. Just wait.

You may also hear lots of advice around this time of the year (“Think big, you have the power to change the world!“, “make sure to have an iron-clad contract!“) Some advice is even confusing and contradictory! (“Single-owner practice is a thing of the past”, “Every year you don’t start your own practice, you’re missing out on your optimal earning potential“) There are so many great speeches out there from people much more accomplished than I. So when I was asked to offer YOU, the University of Michigan School of Dentistry Graduating Class of 2017, some real world advice, I must swallow my pride and say, I don’t have any authentic pearls of wisdom to share.

I dare not advise you to follow your gut and give everything your all. Jim Carey once mentioned that failure is inevitable, so you might as well take a stab at whatever you love to do. That some of us choose paths in life out of fear disguised in practicality… I dare not say that because I understand that everyone has varying degrees of responsibility. I do hope that it does not completely prevent you from enjoying your life. Throughout your career, dentistry will mean different things to you. Take comfort in knowing that you get to tailor your professional world in ways that fit how life presents to you. I don’t need to tell you to put in 100% effort in everything you do; you already know you need grit and patience to succeed. If at the end of that effort, you find that it’s not working out, I hope you know that you can take control of your destiny. You don’t have to stay in that job. Go on and seek the life you want! But we all know not to quit before your try your best, right?

I hope that you will have self-reflection and strive for a balance in life. I hope you will take a time to give back, to volunteer, to serve the underrepresented population in your area. We all know you don’t need to wait, because in a few years life might get a hold of you and before you know it, it’s 40 years later.

I dare not warn you that you’re not going to get very far in life based on what you already know. It’s what you will learn after today that will determine the course of your life. I hope you remember to stay humble–learn to know your limitations, and seek help when appropriate. I continue to learn through CE courses and reputable publications. Because like iPhones, the world of dentistry changes all the time! I try to be up to date so I can give my patients the best possible care and do no harm. But you already know that life is a never-ending learning opportunity, don’t you?

I dare not advise you to broaden your horizons and try to make new friends every year. To talk to each other with an open mind. Michelle Obama already said it, so you can take her advice.

I dare not advise you to start saving early, because everyone knows you can’t rely on social security since you’ll most likely live to be centennial. I wouldn’t dare telling you this because despite living within my means and making sure I put money away for retirement, I do make sure to take time out of work to travel every year so I can learn about new cultures and gain different perspectives in life. And I simply love it. I’m sure you are capable of making your priorities in life and deciding what’s worth spending on. I hope it’s not everything?

Life will go on. You will meet many kinds of patients, you will struggle to finish that second molar endo you got thrown in your first day of work, finding out which rotary system to use. You will find that perfect dental assistant, or have to fire that one to get to another perfect assistant. You will learn that navigating through dental insurance plans is like looking into the eye of Sauron. You will come across situations which shake your core beliefs and threaten what you are made of.  And you might come to wonder, why am I doing what I do?

In that very moment, I hope you will dig deep and reach back to that time you heard back from Michigan. The moment your professional life began. Remember that you are equipped, more than you know, to handle all of these obstacles. Michigan has prepared you, to understand the root cause of all things dental, so that you can seek the best possible solutions for your patients (and sometimes, even life). Don’t take it lightly that you’re a Michigan-trained dentist. So take a pause and deep breaths. You will get through it. Again and again.

I suppose if there is one piece of advice I may offer you, it’s to remember to look around past your loupes. Don’t forget to check in with your colleagues, you friends, your family. Lean on one another. Give and take that support. A friend of mine was struggling with severe alcoholism and needed help getting to rehab and the best decision I had ever done was to not ignore the signs that were a cry for help. Many things will happen in the next few years in your life and career. I hope you will take the time to check in with yourself and people around you.

Lastly, before donning yourself up with that cap and gown and receiving that dental lilac hood, I hope you will take a moment to be grateful of those who helped you get here along the way. Success came from a group effort. Take the time to thank those special people in your life before you run around to find the perfect spot to take that graduation photos!

Congratulations Class of 2017. Wherever you go, Go Blue.

profilepic2017Bio: JJ Ubonwan Saeung graduated from UMSoD in 2013. She is the founding member of AAPHD Student Chapter at Michigan. She completed GPR training at Community Medical Center/Fresno VA hospital system in California and served as clinical lecturer to D3 Oral Surgery course here in 2015. She currently practices with her dental group in Lansing and serves 1 day a week at the Volunteers of America Homeless Clinic.  IG: GetToothy_w_DrSaeung 

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