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Dean Ferrillo addresses the crowd at the Alumni Luncheon.
Dean Ferrillo addresses the crowd at the Alumni Luncheon.

The Fairmont Hotel was filled with the energy and excitement of nearly 1,400 alumni who recently returned to San Francisco for the 111th Annual Alumni meeting held March 12-13.

We have an incredibly talented and tight-knight group of alumni. It was a pleasure to get to know more of them at this annual meeting and at regional events throughout the year.

During my remarks at Friday’s awards luncheon, I had a chance to share my pride in the strength of our people and programs, and present some ideas about the future, especially as it relates to our facilities.

First, as our alumni exemplify, we have amazing students and residents graduating from the school each year. People are at the heart of our school’s culture and behind our incredible success. A caring and humanistic approach, leadership, collaboration, philanthropy and other positive values are demonstrated by our students, faculty, staff and alumni every day. It’s refreshing to see people living these values, especially in a world often consumed with less-than-positive values.

In addition to our people, we are fortunate to have respected and innovative programs. From the nation’s only three-year DDS curriculum, to all of our other academic offerings, including our International Dental Studies, graduate and continuing education programs, we continue to be known for high-quality education. We’re not resting our laurels, however. We’re moving forward to define new standards for education. For example, the Pacific Dental Helix Curriculum currently being implemented places a strong focus on active learning and critical thinking through integration across multiple disciplines and the use of small-group, case-based learning.

Great organizations, including great dental schools, have great people and programs, as well as great facilities. As we continue to move forward to sustain our unique culture and advance our programs, we must also take a look at our facilities to make sure they serve the needs of our school. The Dugoni School of Dentistry has always strived to stay at the forefront of cutting-edge technology, materials and clinical advances used in the practice of dentistry. We must also take a hard look at our existing building to make sure our physical classrooms and clinics are designed to fulfill the modern needs of dental education and clinical practice.

After a thorough study of our existing facilities over the last two years, the University’s Board of Regents recently approved the dental school to take an even closer look at facility needs for the future. The school is now moving forward with a feasibility study to examine relocating the dental school within San Francisco. You may have read the recent news announcement.

This is truly an exciting time. As we evaluate our current and future needs for space, we must think about how classrooms and clinics should be designed for the future. I look forward to working with all of our stakeholders, including our students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends, as we plan for the future of our facilities.

Students collect donations during a break at school.
Students collect donations during a break at school.

The impact of our dental school on people in our community reaches far beyond our school's walls and the dental clinics here on campus. I wanted to highlight a few special activities taking place this holiday season, since many of our students are volunteering above and beyond their typical dental school schedule.

On Wednesday, Dec. 9, students and faculty members will provide dental services for people in need during Project Homeless Connect at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco. For over two years, students have taken an active role in organizing the dental services that are part of this event held several times a year. At each event, more then 1,000 community volunteers partner with government agencies, nonprofits and the private sector to provide a one-stop shop of health and human services for homeless San Franciscans. During PHC’s events, participants are able to accomplish in one day what might normally take eight months.

During the Dec. 9 event, our school will provide expanded oral health services in addition to the usual screenings. People who need further treatment will be taken back to the school for additional dental services here on campus. To learn more about Project Homeless Connect, visit www.projecthomelessconnect.com.

In another special activity this month, students involved in our American Student Dental Association (ASDA) school chapter have “adopted” a family at Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco. The ASDA students have been collecting gifts and will present them to the family before the holiday break.

Last month, November 10-20, students organized a holiday food drive to benefit the San Francisco Food Bank. More than 400 cans or boxes of food were donated. Students also took up a collection, raising an additional $1,674 for the Food Bank.

Both the “adopt a family” program and food drive are part of an initiative called Pacific Pays it Forward. This is a student-led series of activities to give students, faculty and staff a chance to get involved in volunteer activities outside the scope of dentistry. The ASDA chapter has been busy exploring other ideas and planning for the new year, so we look forward to future opportunities to help.

My hat goes off to all of our students who are so involved in these projects to benefit the community. It is inspiring to see their commitment to assisting others, whether by providing oral health services for the public, or providing a helping hand in other ways not connected to dentistry.

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Our school’s Associated Student Body (ASB) is an extraordinary group of people who work very hard for the student body and the entire school. Leadership is one of our school’s values and we deeply appreciate the involvement of these students. I am very proud that our student leaders recently gave up one of their weekends to enhance their leadership skills.

I had a chance to sit in on some of the discussions that students were having as part of their leadership training. During the presentations, Dr. Karl Haden, from the Academy for Academic Leadership, talked about the significance of vision. To illustrate his points, he showed a film clip of Martin Luther King Jr.’s great speech “I Have a Dream.”

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbUtL_0vAJk]

During the weekend, I began to contemplate not only King’s remarkable speech, but everything else that went on in the 1960s. For those of us who were growing up in that period, it was a frightening time in many ways.

We had — and lost — three leaders who had great vision: Martin Luther King, President John Kennedy, and Senator Robert Kennedy. All three of them were tragically assassinated within a short span of years, denied the chance to see their visions fulfilled.

We also had a very unpopular war in Vietnam going on during that same period of time which ultimately drew in many young adults. For our students currently here at the Dugoni School of Dentistry, they have no idea what the draft meant. I can remember the evening we sat and watched the lottery. Depending on which number was selected for our birth date to determine our fate whether we could stay in college and universities, or we would have to go off and fight this unfavorable war.

Lyndon Johnson meeting with civil rights leaders.jpg  President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Civil Rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr., Whitney Young and James Farmer on January 18, 1964.
Lyndon Johnson meeting with civil rights leaders.jpg President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Civil Rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr., Whitney Young and James Farmer on January 18, 1964. (Source: Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum. Image Serial Number: W425-21)

President Lyndon Johnson, while he did much for civil rights and for programs that enhanced the population (such as Medicare), got bogged down in a war which most Americans no longer saw as justified. That led to a period of massive anti-war demonstrations, as well as fiery civil rights protests. Those of us who were around during that period of time will never be able to forget the burning of Watts and Detroit and other great cities. And how could one forget the massive demonstrations and violence that broke out at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago?

To top it all off, late in the decade, we elected a new president, only to see him leave his office in shame a few years later, when threatened with impeachment for criminal acts in the Watergate scandal.

It is important to remember those times, to remember the tumultuous period when we wondered if the United States of America would survive as a nation. In the end, the will of the people and the desire to move forward kept us alive and brought us out of that terrifying era to a period of stability, an expansion of civil rights, and a reconsideration of the decisions that had condemned so many young people to war. The draft ultimately was ended. The country was able to move on.

Returning to where I began: this weekend’s leadership activities brought my mind to reflect on those three great gentlemen and visionaries we lost in the 1960s. Part of their vision has been achieved. Even though oppression still exists, we also see greater equality than ever before.

I would imagine that Martin Luther King, Jr. would say today that part of his dream was achieved when our country elected its first African-American president.

Robert Kennedy fought hard to help people in need. Today, we continue to fight that battle and continue to help those underserved who are living in poverty with poor education and a lack of services the more fortunate among us sometimes take for granted.

And at least one of President Kennedy’s dreams -- to bring luster to the United States of America and establish it as a world power in the face of the Soviet Union -- certainly came true.

While we are experiencing difficult financial times today, I have faith in the American people that we will come out of this tumultuous period just as we did after the 1960s.

Dr. Dudley Cheu
Dr. Dudley Cheu

On Sunday, July 12, I attended a touching event in honor of an extraordinary person. It was a celebration of Dr. Dudley Cheu’s life. Dr. Cheu, who had been teaching at our school since 1994, was an assistant professor in the Department of Restorative Dentistry. It was a very sad event due to his early passing and my heart goes out to his family and friends.

I learned a great deal about Dr. Cheu’s life at the ceremony. I knew him at campus from his smiling face; incredibly positive attitude; compassion and desire to help our students; and the fact that he always got things done around the school. He was always commendable and supportive when interacting with our students. And the students clearly felt just as positive about him. A year ago, for example, students honored him at an awards dinner as an outstanding faculty member.

With his passing, we should all contemplate what lessons we can learn from his positive approach to life. As I watched more than 300 people gather to commemorate his life and listen to his friends talk about him, I learned what an extraordinary role model he was for us all, including myself.

Dr. Cheu clearly knew how to balance his life. His family, including his wife Genevieve, two sons Jason and Derek, and grandchildren were important parts of his life. He loved his profession and his patients, and at the same time had the opportunity to enjoy many other aspects of life. He was well travelled, enjoyed great food and fantastic wines. We should all remember his approach as an example to live by – a person who knew how to balance his priorities and do it well. He embraced life and enjoyed it to the fullest. He will be missed by all, but never forgotten.