Graduation 2022: Together Again

After two-plus years of hardships, quarantines, and physical distancing because of COVID-19, on May 23, 2022, NYU Dentistry was able to hold its first in-person graduation ceremony since May 2019, and it was a fitting celebration of the members of the Class of 2022’s milestone achievement and a welcome opportunity to bring together the candidates, their families, and guests.

Once again, the ceremony was held in the magnificent Madison Square Garden, where more than 500 candidates for the Doctor of Dental Surgery degree, Advanced Education Program certificates, MS degrees in biomaterials and in clinical research, AAS and BS degrees in dental hygiene, and Dental Assisting Program certificates saw their dreams come true as they received their degrees and certificates before an audience of more than 4,000 people in The Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, less than the usual number because of continuing COVID-19 safety protocols, but still an impressive crowd.

In addition to the candidates, the College honored two individuals who have made a profound impact on increasing diversity in higher education and on championing the needs of disabled New Yorkers.

Dr. Dennis Miller, who serves as executive vice president for university life, senior vice provost for faculty advancement, and professor of dental medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, received the Harry Strusser Memorial Award for his outstanding contributions to public health through his efforts to diversify the academy at every level. At Columbia, he served as the first diversity-focused dean at a U.S. dental school, leading the effort to increase the proportion of historically underrepresented students in each incoming class from 3% to 20%. As senior vice president, Dr. Mitchell implements the programmatic elements of Columbia’s ongoing financial commitment to enhance the diversity of the faculty and works with the leaders of each of Columbia’s schools to evaluate and strengthen their diversity initiatives. As an academic, he has focused on building programs to diversify the health professions by creating two pipeline programs that bring more than 125 young scholars from underrepresented groups to the Columbia campus each summer.

The College’s highest form of recognition, the David B. Kriser Medal, was awarded to Anastasia M. Somoza, the New York City Council’s first-ever liaison to the disability community, for her inspiring work in expanding our understanding that disability rights are human rights. A lifelong disability rights advocate, Ms. Somoza grabbed headlines in 1993 as the fearless 9-year-old who grilled then President Bill Clinton on why she and her twin sister, Alba, who was less verbal than she was, could not be in the same mainstream classroom. That led to a lifetime of advocacy and friendship with the Clintons, which culminated in a galvanizing speech at the 2016 Democratic Convention, where she was a Delegate for Mrs. Clinton, followed two years later by her ground-breaking appointment as the City Council’s Community Liaison for Disability, Civil, and Human Rights, a position of prominence from which she fought for equal treatment for disabled New Yorkers through her efforts to humanize disability and reduce the gap between us and them.
Class Representative Margaret Mullen spoke on behalf of the BS Program in Dental Hygiene, and Dr. Bilal Chaudhary spoke on behalf of the DDS Program.

Alumni Association President Dr. Bruce Brandolin,’84, brought greetings on behalf of the Alumni Association.

Following the presentation of degrees and certificates, Colonel Tawanna McGhee-Thondique, Director of the Dental Directorate of the U.S. Army Medical Command (MEDCOM), officially commissioned six newly minted DDS program graduates entering the U.S. Armed Forces Dental Corps, continuing a tradition that began in 2015, when members of the graduating class were formally commissioned as part of the Graduation Ceremony.