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‘Closing this chapter virtually felt strange’ ― UCLA School of Dentistry graduate reflects on virtual ceremony

June 25, 2020 4587

Like many schools opting for online graduations during the COVID-19 pandemic, the school streamed its 53rd commencement ceremony honoring the class of 2020 on YouTube. 

Graduating students of the University of California, Los Angeles School of Dentistry accepted their doctor of dental surgery degrees in a virtual ceremony May 31. Like many schools opting for online graduations during the COVID-19 pandemic, the school streamed its 53rd commencement ceremony honoring the class of 2020 on YouTube. 

The virtual ceremony included a compilation of videos from the dean and faculty members offering words of advice, memories and congratulatory messages followed by pictures of the graduates throughout their time at UCLA.

Although grateful for the school’s effort to celebrate this milestone, UCLA graduate Michelle Piasecki, DDS, says closing this chapter in her life virtually felt strange.

“I imagined celebrating with my classmates and thanking my mentors in person and having that feeling of accomplishment as I completed treatment on my patient,” she said. “Dentistry and dental school are such social endeavors — it feels unnatural to finish with so few people around me.”

Despite the circumstances, family members went above and beyond to give Dr. Piasecki the celebration she deserved.

“My husband surprised me by setting up chairs in rows like an auditorium and playing “Pomp and Circumstance.” The family we’re staying with was seated in the back row, and those that couldn’t be there were set up on a bunch of different devices on FaceTime in the front row,” she said. “It was not what I imagined my graduation would look like, but it was a neat way to celebrate.”

Piasecki, who received the CDA Outstanding Senior Award and an award for oral and maxillofacial pathology, plans to attend a general practice residency at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center. As she moves forward in her career amid the COVID-19 pandemic, she believes dentistry has a great opportunity to grow as a profession and create innovative systems to protect dental professionals and patients.

“Similar to the changes in PPE that followed the HIV epidemic in the 80s, I feel we will emerge from this pandemic stronger with better tools to manage challenges like this in the future,” she said.

Piasecki is considering a future in prosthodontics but is still undecided on where her love for dentistry will lead her. Whichever path she chooses to follow, she intends to stay engaged with rising dental professionals as a leader and mentor as others have been to her.

The UCLA School of Dentistry plans to host a formal ceremony at a later date.