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There is a saying that the true test of character is how a person behaves when no one is looking. What action do they take without an audience? It might be picking up a piece of trash in the school hallway when no one else is around. Or dropping off cans of food or a toy to a charity collection bin. Or holding a door open for someone you don’t know and will never meet again.

In a broader sense, the way we give back to the community also shows a bit about our character, especially when no one is looking. During the holiday season, so many of us are asked to give of our time, talents and treasury to organizations and causes. How do we respond?

It is always heartwarming to hear from our students, faculty and alumni who volunteer for many causes within the world of dentistry and outside of it. We even have students and faculty members who volunteer over their breaks to go on humanitarian dentistry trips to help underserved families overseas. I would like to thank these volunteers who give their time and talent without seeking applause or acknowledgement from others. This is in contrast with some celebrities, corporate representatives and politicians we occasionally see on TV who are all about the cameras and the publicity.

At Pacific Dugoni, we are fortunate to have many opportunities to give back to the community. Some of these opportunities are initiated by students, and others are organized by staff or faculty members. In many ways, the Season of Giving around our school extends far into the New Year and beyond.

In whatever way you give back, I encourage you to keep in mind the spirit of the cause and the good work you are doing in and of itself.

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

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.

As I have said many times, the Dugoni School of Dentistry is one large family. Throughout our daily lives, we work together, play together, share each other’s joys and, unfortunately at times, share sad moments.

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit with a group of our alums who are part of an event called the Greco-Roman Fly Fishing Week, held in the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains. These people have spent so much time together throughout their lives, sharing their joys and unhappy times as well. Their friendships have endured for many years. I had the opportunity to see multiple generations – sons of our graduates who are also graduates of our institution. Their love for each other is tremendous, as is their love for the Pacific family, which was expressed often during the gathering.

Patients are part of our family here as well. I recently received a letter from a patient who wrote how blessed I must feel to be dean of this great dental school. Her needs were taken care of in a compassionate and friendly manner, and she was very pleased. I wrote back to her and said I’m very blessed to be the dean of such a great dental school.

To all the faculty, staff, students, alums and friends – thank you for all you do for the school, for our patients and for me. It is truly a unique place. In all of my career experiences in various capacities, I have never have seen an organization of this nature. It is all because of our people. A school can have great facilities, but not very good people and as a result, the institution as a whole won’t be very good. Here, we have great people, great facilities, and are very blessed to all be working together.

My best wishes to you all. I continue to want to hear thoughts and ideas from you, whether online or in person at the various school events coming up throughout the year.

I want to wish you the very best for a happy and safe holiday season.

I recognize next year may be a difficult time for us all individually as we continue to face the economic decline. I am confident that the economy will eventually turn around. In the meantime as a family we need to be prepared to help individuals in need.

I am excited about 2009. Together we will continue to ensure that the Dugoni School will maintain its greatness. Thank you again for giving me the opportunity to serve as your dean. I look forward to working with you in 2009.