Once Strangers, Now Closest Friends: GSDM Commencement 2024 Toasts to Camaraderie


Nearly 300 predoctoral students, postdoctoral residents, and postgraduate students were recognized for fulfilling their degree and certificate programs during the Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine 2024 Commencement Convocation Ceremony at the Boston University Track and Tennis Center on Friday, May 17. 

The Class of 2024 had one final lesson to learn during their ceremony: The importance of togetherness. 

As the graduates processed in, they were immediately surrounded by a roaring crowd filled with their loved ones dressed to the nines–including a dog in a tuxedo wearing a “I heart my BU DMD” button on its lapel. The graduates were united as a class with their red or black gowns, black caps, and dazzling smiles.  

During his opening remarks, Dean Cataldo Leone commended the graduates for the hard work they’ve put in and sacrifices they’ve made to complete their dental educational journeys.  

“I ask that you focus on what you have learned, on how you have grown, and on the good friends and colleagues you have made during your time here,” Leone said. “The school has endeavored to cultivate in you a mindset that embraces innovation and continuous improvement. Lean in to this mindset, for it will ensure that you remain ever curious, and ever learning—that you will never cease aspiring to learn more, to do more, and to be more for your patients, your community, and your profession, while not forgetting that these apply also for your families and yourselves.”  

This year’s keynote address was delivered by Dr. Robert A. Faiella, past president of the American Dental Association, past president of the Massachusetts Dental Society, and the Chief Dental Officer and co-Founder of 32Health, Inc, among other affiliations.  

Faiella told the graduates that there is an intangible change when someone earns the prefix of “Doctor” before their name. He said being a doctor means making decisions not based on one’s own needs, but on the needs of the patient. To manage the rigors of newfound professional responsibilities in a fast-paced profession, Faiella urged graduates to maintain a healthy work-life balance.  

“A well-balanced life enhances your ability to care for others and sustains your passion for this noble work. Set boundaries early and respect them,” Faiella said. “Spend quality time with friends and family and loved ones. These relationships will ground you and provide support through the challenges and triumphs that lie ahead.” 

In keeping with a new tradition established at the 2022 GSDM Commencement, the DMD Advanced Standing and DMD valedictorians—Dr. Hiba Hussain and Dr. Jonathan Lee respectively—were announced during Friday’s ceremony.  

In her speech, Hussain said the support of her family and her 100 classmates helped her through the challenging journey of a United States-based dental education.  

“For all the free therapy sessions, for answering my one million questions, for bringing me home-cooked meals when I wasn’t eating properly, for helping me with lab work, for giving me hugs when I really needed them, and for creating a WhatsApp group ‘for the HAHAs,’ and then actually delivering on that, I never imagined myself, being as introverted as I am, forming such deep connections with so many of you,” Hussain said. “I just want you all to know how much I appreciate you.”  

Check out our 2024 Commencement album on Flickr to see more photos. 

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Lee said he is proud of everything he and his classmates accomplished together over the past four years, ranging from successfully completing anatomy labs during the COVID-19 pandemic to learning how to use electronic health records.  

“What really makes this past chapter of our lives meaningful isn’t what we’ve learned, it isn’t the accomplishments, it’s the relationships that we’ve built,” Lee said. “It’s the people to your left and to your right, it’s the handful of people who were once strangers, but now are your closest friends. And as a class, moving forward, what better gift could we receive, than having this shared experience between us, that now has become an intimate bond tying us together.”  

The 2024 Spencer N. Frankl Award for Excellence in Teaching was awarded to Dr. Ruben Figueroa, clinical professor of oral & maxillofacial surgery at GSDM and clinical services medical director at Boston Medical Center. This annual award, named for the late Dr. Spencer N. Frankl, the school’s second dean, is given to a GSDM faculty member who has demonstrated dedicated and compassionate educational tenacity.  

Figueroa used his speech to give thanks to the people who supported him both professionally and personally throughout his own dental journey, including Leone, Dr. Donald Booth, former GSDM department of oral and maxillofacial surgery chair, Dr. Thomas Kilgore, oral & maxillofacial surgery professor, and his wife of 50 years, Annie. Without them and many others, he said he would never have been able to battle serious health issues, let alone thrive a dental educator.  

“I want to be known as a fighter,” Figueroa said. “I want to fight for everything in life because I want to have that desire to continue going forward.”  

At the conclusion of Faiella’s speech, Leone remarked it was the point in the Commencement program that everyone had been waiting for: The reading of the graduates’ names.  

Dr. Afsheen Lakhani, GSDM director of group practices and clinical associate professor of general dentistry, was this year’s announcer—a role she has had since 2022. In our earlier Behind the Scenes article, Lakhani said this year’s Commencement was especially remarkable as she read the names of the DMD 2024 students during their White Coat Ceremony in 2022 and the names of the DMD AS 2024 students during both their Professional Ceremony in 2022 and their White Coat Ceremony in 2023. 

From giant cardboard cut-outs of the graduates’ heads to spontaneous break dancing, every graduate had a special moment crossing the stage, hearing their name pronounced correctly.  

In closing, Leone told the graduates that life is a journey. Life as a dental professional is constantly busy, but he emphasized the virtue in pausing and savoring special moments. Commencement serves as one of many exceptional occasions to celebrate and cherish success surrounded by loved ones, he said.  

“We must acknowledge that progress in life is a generational quality,” Leone said. “Therefore, we would be remiss if we did not also commend the families and friends of our graduates for all that they have provided them. Without their uncompromising love, moral support, and in many cases financial assistance, our graduates would not be here today.”  

The graduates rose in their seats to wave, blow kisses, and cheer towards their guests, showing their admiration for their never-ending assistance. When the Class of 2024 recessed out of the Track and Tennis Center, they left with lifelong friendships and joined the prestigious GSDM alumni community that will never fail them.  

To read our full commencement coverage, please visit our commencement 2024 page.  


By Rachel Grace Philipson