This is the season of graduation. All across the country, high school and college students (and their families) are celebrating the end of their academic careers and awaiting what comes next. We call these Commencement Exercises. But, “a ceremony in which degrees or diplomas are conferred on graduating students” is only the second dictionary definition of the term “commencement.” The primary definition is a beginning or start, as in initiation, origin, opening, or launch. We look at graduation as the end of a process. The “finish line” if you will. Nothing should be further from the truth. In reality, graduation is a beginning.
I was privileged to attend the commencement for The Ohio State University College of Dentistry Class of 2018. This was my first graduating class as a member of the faculty and I thoroughly enjoyed watching 110 dentists and 32 dental hygienists join our profession. Being on the stage changes one’s perspective on the events, and I still vividly remember my experience 31 years ago. Part of the ceremony was the reading of The Dentist’s Pledge by the graduating class. All dentists in attendance were asked to re-commit to the following document by reading it as well. I encourage you to read it aloud now with me.
I (state your name), as a member of the dental profession, shall keep this pledge and these stipulations.
I understand and accept that my primary responsibility is to my patients, and I shall dedicate myself to render, to the best of my ability, the highest standard of oral health care and to maintain a relationship of respect and confidence. Therefore, let all come to me in the knowledge that their total health and well-being are my first considerations.
I shall accept the responsibility that, as a professional, my competence rests on continuing the attainment of knowledge and skill in the arts and sciences of dentistry.
I acknowledge my obligation to support and sustain the honor and integrity of the profession and to conduct myself in all endeavors such that I shall merit the respect of my patients, colleagues, and my community. I further commit myself to the betterment of my community for the benefit of all society.
I shall faithfully observe the “Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct” as set forth by the profession.
All this I pledge with pride in my commitment to the profession and the public it serves.
OK, I know that all those of us who have ever seen the movie “Animal House” chuckled at the “I, state your name” line, but after that, it can be a solemn and weighty moment. The cynics will say, “well, that’s easier said than done!” That’s true. But at least we said it! If we avoid saying something, just because it seems hard, or less than a sure thing, then we are missing a big point. Because if you don’t say it, it’s unlikely to get done. If something had to be probable or possible in order to be discussed, we never would have learned to fly, or put a person on the moon. Dreams and goals have intrinsic value. We need to put them out there for all to see.
There are words of power contained in the pledge. Sometimes we lose sight of the lofty goals we had at the beginning. As I read through the pledge, words like dedicate, respect, competence, obligation, honor, integrity and pride jump off the page at me.
Spring is a time of new beginnings. Please join me in commencement. As we think back to the origin of our careers, let us rededicate ourselves to what we believe. No matter how many days the boats have been leaving the harbor in the morning, fishermen launch each day anew with the vision of a good day ahead. I talk to many colleagues who still love the profession but find each day a challenge. Let’s use the pledge to remember why we started in the first place and to initiate a renewal.
Each day in school, I have the pleasure of interacting with the next generation. At commencement, as I looked out from the stage, I saw the future. I can clearly say that it is bright indeed! Where are my sunglasses? I’m ready to join them. Time to put on my shades!
Dr. Messina may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.