The Start of a New Beginning: GSDM Commencement 2023 was full of joy and reflection


The sun beamed brightly outside, but nothing could outsparkle the shimmering smiles of the Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine Class of 2023 graduates as they gathered for Commencement on Friday, May 19.  

Two hundred and twelve predoctoral students and 64 postdoctoral residents and postgraduate students were recognized for fulfilling their degree and certificate programs during the Henry M Goldman School of Dental Medicine 2023 Commencement Convocation Ceremony. The melodic sound of Pomp and Circumstance was overshadowed by the cheers of the family and friends of the graduates as they processed into the Boston University Track and Tennis Center. 

During his opening remarks, Dean Cataldo Leone applauded the graduating class for their dedication to their dental studies throughout multiple hurdles, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the GSDM renovation and expansion construction project, and changes in program leadership. He fondly remembers the Class of 2023 first arriving at GSDM, eager to excel as oral healthcare professionals; now he looks forward to seeing them fulfill their aspirations.  

“Your time at GSDM has been incredible and we truly have been enriched by your presence,” Leone said. “You leave us as you came in – intelligent, talented, and dedicated individuals – but, with considerably more knowledge, skills, and values than on day one. We thank you for letting us travel along with you on that journey. On behalf of the entire GSDM community of faculty, staff, alumni, and fellow students and residents, I congratulate you on your tremendous achievement.”  

Historically, the predoctoral valedictorians were announced the week prior to Commencement. Last year, Dean Leone started a new tradition of saving the announcement for the Commencement stage – a tradition he continued this year when he announced at the ceremony that this year’s DMD Advanced Standing valedictorian was Dr. Paula Aspinwall-Rezende and the DMD valedictorian was Dr. Mohamad Srour. 

Aspinwall-Rezende said she was proud of the DMD AS Class of 2023 for becoming stronger, better versions of themselves in their latest round of dental education.  

“This is just the beginning, not the end,” Aspinwall-Rezende said. “The learning continues. Let’s continue to learn, especially from our mistakes. They are our biggest opportunities. Let’s continue to improve. Not only in dentistry, but also as part of our communities, our families. Let’s improve our minds, our spirit, and bodies.”   

Srour dedicated his speech to not only his family and friends, but to all the parents, caregivers, loved ones, and friends who became family to him and his fellow classmates. He noted it takes a village to support dental students to graduate from their dental programs, but they could now celebrate their collective success.  

“You were there for us during our lowest moments and pushed us to keep going through the most challenging times, whether it was prepping a crown for the first time, seeing our first patient, or studying for endless exams while running low on sleep and seeing patients the next morning,” Srour said. “Today, we are all here, signifying our resolution and drive to succeed.”  


Following the valedictorian speeches, the Spencer N. Frankl Award for Excellence in Teaching was awarded to two recipients: Andrew Miller DMD 12 AEGD 13 ENDO 15, GSDM director of predoctoral endodontics and clinical associate professor of general dentistry, and Dr. Elizabeth Whitney CAMED 05, assistant professor of anatomy and neurobiology at the Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine. The award is named for the late Dr. Spencer N. Frankl, the second dean of the school, and recognizing dedicated healthcare educators.   

Miller shared that he had originally believed he would work as an endodontist in a private practice, but it was the support and confidence of the GSDM community, specifically his endodontic residency program chair, Dr. Sami Chogle, that encouraged him to become a dental educator.  

‘It’s always easy to find ways to talk ourselves out of things, especially when it involves aspects of self-doubt, and it can be really hard to find reasons to simply say ‘yes’ even when the experience and opportunity will obviously benefit us in ways that we could not imagine,” Miller said.   

Whitney said the Class of 2023 was an ambitious cohort, and it was an extraordinary joy to celebrate their accomplishments in person. She thanked the DMD class for being patient while adapting to virtual learning and told the DMD AS class that she admired their hard work and tenacity.  

“As you embark on your careers away from Boston University, my hope for each of you is that you believe in yourself and the power of your education; that you embrace the challenges that lie ahead and learn from them; that you trust yourself and your skills, but you also have the confidence to reach out and accept help from others; that you do good in this world and, of course, that you enjoy each chapter along the way,” Whitney said.  

This year’s keynote speaker was Dr. Richard Valachovic, founding director of the new Center for Oral Health Policy and Management at the New York University College of Dentistry, where he also holds an appointment as clinical professor in the department of oral and maxillofacial surgery. 

When reflecting on his own dental school commencement from 46 years ago — to the day! — Valachovic said his life changed the second he received his degree. For the new graduates, he urged them to recognize their day of transformation.  

“On this one day in your lives, you move from being someone with a lot of knowledge and education to being a full member of a profession or a specialty,” Valachovic said. “For those of you receiving the Doctor of Dental Medicine degree, on this one day, you go from being called Mr. or Ms. to being called Doctor. On this one day, you become something that you will be for the rest of your lives.”  

The crowd could not contain their excitement when it was finally time for the graduates to cross the stage, one by one, and receive recognition for completing their degree or certificate.  

Each graduate had their special moment across the stage – including one who took a memorable selfie with Leone – amid the loud applause and cheers of the audience. After the last diploma was handed out, Leone asked the graduates to turn and thank the crowd for their unwavering support throughout their dental journeys, and then the Class of 2023 came together one last time to recite the professional oath.  


Check out our 2023 Commencement album on Flickr to see more photos.

In closing, Leone asked the graduates to remember to take in every moment and to not let life go by too fast. 

“Life will quickly present you with new opportunities and new challenges…” Leone said. “You will have choices to make, and each one of you will have to decide exactly how you make them. Some might reframe the metaphor and say that life is a marathon, with hills to go up and hills to go down. If true, then it is my sincerest wish that each of you will pace yourselves accordingly as you strive to reach your own professional and personal finish lines.”   

As the graduates recessed out of the Track and Tennis Center, rushing to find their guests in the neighboring tent at Malvern Field and to bask in their latest accomplishments, they officially started to write the first page of their next chapter.  

To read our full commencement coverage, please visit our commencement 2023 page.


By Rachel Grace Philipson