Graduation brings Class of 2020 together online

The nearly 150 members of the UMKC School of Dentistry Class of 2020 received their degrees Friday evening with online pomp and circumstance.
Messages from the chancellor, provost, class presidents, dean and alumni offered congratulations, praise and encouragement. A baker’s dozen advanced students received their doctorates, master’s degrees and specialty certificates, followed by 104 doctors of dental surgery and 29 bachelors of dental hygiene. A special ceremony inducted three of the dental graduates into the U.S. military dental corps. And two students and two faculty members received special awards.

The word “unprecedented” came up several times, given the necessity to make it an online event as a safeguard against spread of the coronavirus. It was a graduation ceremony with everything except the crowd.

A Zoom chat room before the 7 p.m. event gave students a chance to connect with one another and with the dean, faculty and staff. Then a UMKC Conservatory student, Anthony Varner, sang “The Star Spangled Banner” to open the official ceremony.

Chancellor C. Mauli Agrawal offered congratulations and said the Class of 2020 had “proven your ability to adapt to unforeseen circumstances and to excel.” Provost Jennifer Lundgren and David Suchman, DDS 2000, followed with brief remarks.

Dean Marsha A. Pyle spoke movingly of the Class of 2020’s challenges and accomplishments, and she thanked faculty members for answering their call to “teach, mentor, stretch and support” the students.

“This is a night for looking forward as we have all been through the darkest of days in the last two months,” Dean Pyle said. “This evening you emerge with your mission accomplished, wiser for your efforts, your study, your hard work and motivation; wiser and more resilient because there was no other choice.

“I am so proud of you! We have learned so much about each other in the last two months. We have learned of your struggles to finish, your motivation to get it done, anxiety about if and when today would happen, in addition to the additional personal challenges many of you faced.

“It took courage and courageous leadership. Your advocacy and collaborations for the benefit of each other has been noticed. Well done!”

Dean Pyle also gave out her awards for academic distinction, for being first in their class, to Matt Bryant, DDS, and KeShawnda Frisby, BSDH.

The class presidents gave remarks in addition to presenting awards for the faculty members their classmates voted as having the greatest influence on them.

The DH class president, Abbey Hartley, said she was so proud of her dental hygiene classmates’ positivity and adaptation, and she thanked their DDS classmates for their advice and camaraderie. Of the many great faculty members who received votes, she said, Ashley Ryan (BSDH ’16) came out on top. Ryan, who served in the U.S. Marines and joined the faculty as a clinical adjunct instructor, is a great motivator, Hartley said, and always showed the class how to care and be strong.

Fred Drummond, DDS class president, had the joke of the evening. Being a dental student, he said, he had to take this last opportunity to complain: The online ceremony had removed his last chance to avoid having to address everyone at graduation.

Then Drummond summoned the memory and spirit of Dr. Jake McGuire, DDS, PHD, the beloved faculty member who passed away in October 2018, with his quotation: “I am only a reflection of the many mentors I have had throughout the years.” Drummond said his classmates benefited from Dr. McGuire and many other faculty mentors through their strength, compassion and resilience.

Like Hartley, Drummond said his classmates had voted for several outstanding faculty members, reflecting strength throughout the program. In the end, he said, Dr. Connie White was the winner. Drummond said his classmates noted her national leadership in dentistry and her many contributions at the School of Dentistry. Quoting a classmate, Drummond said, “She’s really just the most phenomenal human.”

Dean Pyle then introduced the conferring of degrees, and each student and his or her accomplishments read as their portrait was shown. If a student submitted photos and remarks, those also were displayed, giving classmates and family another chance to see and celebrate the graduates.

A special ceremony, captured on videotape, also was shown for the three Class of 2020 students entering the Army or Navy dental corps: Drummond and Dylan Love, as captains in the U.S. Army, and Michael Smith, as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy.

Dean Pyle and Chancellor Agrawal wrapped up the ceremony, along with words from Dr. Nick Rogers, DDS ’78, who welcomed the school’s newest alumni by encouraging them to be kind, compassionate and involved, and to form relationships with everyone along their way.

Find a recording of the event on the UMKC Commencement page or a direct link to the School of Dentistry ceremony here.