Live Graduation, Hooding and Awards Celebrations Honor 2021 Graduates

After a year of caution and sacrifice, UMKC and the School of Dentistry celebrated their Class of 2021 with live-streamed and in-person events large and small.

On Saturday afternoon, the weather cooperated and scores of dental hygiene and doctor of dental surgery students attended their live graduation at Kauffman Stadium. Graduation followed a hooding ceremony Friday for the DDS class just south of the World War I Memorial. And the dental hygiene class had its own special event earlier in May, its Senior Scholarship Day.
The ceremonies, though always memorable for students and their families, just might have been even more important for the classes of 2021.

“The hooding ceremony and live commencement events this weekend were wonderful. I and all my classmates feel so grateful that we were able to celebrate in person with our loved ones present!” said Jaime “Kika” Masunaga, D.D.S. ’21. “The circumstances prevented many of our classmates from gathering over the past year and a half, so to have this one last event where we were able to all be together, celebrating our journey and our accomplishment, felt all the more special.”

Bailey Howard, B.S.D.H. ’21, expressed similar sentiments: “The live graduation was amazing! I am happy I attended and truly grateful that I had the opportunity to walk across the stage in person.”

Howard, who has a job lined up at a public health center, added, “It is such a fulfilling yet surreal moment to have school behind me. I am very excited to get out into the real world and put my years of practice and learning to use.”

At the hooding on Friday, interim Dean Russell Melchert said the ceremonies “are an important moment for our dental school community to celebrate and recognize the successes and accomplishments of our graduates.”

“This is especially true for the graduates before us today whose education has been so different” because of the pandemic, Melchert said. “To be at this point in your journey has required a great deal of dedication, sacrifice, resilience, effort, humility, stretching, care, and accomplishment.”

Melcher noted that the dental Class of 2021 was “heading off to great adventures” in Missouri and Kansas, across the United States and even in Kuwait: 56 to private practice, 22 to a specialty/residency, 10 to public health clinics, eight to general practice residency, seven to advanced education in general dentistry residency, four to military service, three to pediatric dentistry, four to orthodontics and four to oral and maxillofacial surgery.

The hooding ceremony’s location was not lost on Taylor Michelson, D.D.S. ’21, who is part of the Army Health Professional Scholarship Program and now a commissioned captain heading to a one-year AEGD residency at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs.

“The past four years were full of hardships and trials, but they also seem like they flew by in a blink of an eye,” she said. “It is amazing to see how far we have come with the completion of graduation requirements and clinic cases. I am really excited to continue my education, especially after such a strange fourth year of dental school, and getting to serve my country by doing what I love.“

Michelson added that it was great to share the hooding ceremony with family and friends “at such an iconic location in Kansas City. I loved how fun and unique the ceremony was for us.”

Graduation was bittersweet, she said, “but I know my fellow classmates are going to do great things. We have some of the most patient, inspiring, and caring faculty members at the dental school. I am so thankful for such amazing mentors to have learned from.”

For Masunaga, who will enter residency in orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics, becoming a dentist fulfills a dream and honors her UMKC alumni father and grandfather.  Masunaga said she was gratified that her parents, Scott Masunaga, D.D.S. ’82, and Millie Arucan-Masunaga, were able to participate in the hooding ceremony.  She also said at graduation he felt the presence of her grandfather, Glenn Masunaga, D.D.S. ’54, who passed away during Jaime’s D3 year.

“I have always looked up to both of them and feel proud to have followed in their footsteps,” she said. “My grandfather and many of my UMKC alumni mentors always talked about UMKC with so much pride, and now having completed the program I can see why.”

Masunaga added: “Over the years, I have always heard of the special connection between UMKC and its Hawaii alumni. The camaraderie and support that I have had through my ‘Hawaii family’ here in KC has been the highlight of my dental school experience. I am incredibly grateful to UMKC for welcoming students from Hawaii.”

Howard said that for her and her dental hygiene classmates, it was gratifying to conclude their years at the School of Dentistry with graduation and with their senior scholars awards. The scholars event included her induction into the dental hygiene honor society, Sigma Phi Alpha, which accepts top students who have demonstrated character, leadership potential and dedication to scholarship and service.

“Looking back, attending UMKC has been such a humbling and profound experience for me,” said Howard. “It’s taught me the value of education and helped build my professional and personal skills. I was honored to take part in UMKC Honors College and to be inducted into Sigma Phi Alpha. I can’t wait to see how I can contribute to the society.”

Within the Kuwait graduates this year was Rahad Behbehani, its first female since restarting the program.  Rahad is considered a very strong mentor and leader for the female students from Kuwait coming behind her. The first new cohort started as freshman in Fall 2009 and graduated with their DDS in 2017.

You can read more about the Dental Hygiene Program Senior Scholarship Day here and see photos from the event here.

Watch the graduation here.

Photos from the military induction ceremony here.

Find photos from the Hooding event here.

Potraits of the dental grads from the hooding cermony are here.

Photos of the individual grads being hooded are here.