Reflections on Commencement

By Golmah Zarinkhou

We celebrate as we recall the past four years, already fogged over with the hazy joy of their culmination. We began alongside medical students in the TMEC amphitheater learning about the body and ourselves. We leave as capable clinicians.

We changed here in the same way people fall in love. Some of us in a rush and others with a slow realization, that who we are now is better than who we were four years ago. But we must not fool ourselves at home into thinking we simply came and conquered. Harvard challenged us, broke us, and only then reformed us. We struggled with building contact inside the clinic and out. We explored ridges, cusps, and doubts. We discovered the decay in our patients and ourselves.

At the same time, we had the benefit of brilliant opportunities—like research and data collection across the Atlantic, externships in Japan or local community health centers, surgical assists of jaw reconstruction, and one-on-one treatment planning sessions with our senior tutors.

The days were long but the years short. I remember the first winter when we jumped in groups off the ledges of Gordon Hall into the snowbanks of the Quad. That spring, we scoured Boston in hopes of winning the Society Olympics. Our second year, we wrote, directed, and acted in what may be the last Second Year Show of Harvard tradition. When the third year loomed ahead, we spent hours dehydrated and drilling in the simulation lab.

After all this privilege and toil, however, we must raise the question my mother still asks me to consider once the credits roll at the theater: What did that mean?

Well, our educators showed us the technicalities: how operative dentistry and prosthodontics employ engineering principles to practice a form of in-vivo architecture; how periodontics maintains the crucial balance between host factors and the microbiome; and even how endodontics embraces the principle of denervation for survival, a human instinct in times of trauma we creatively apply to teeth.

We learned all this in lecture, but we came to see in the clinic how at its heart, dentistry means connecting with people, knowing each patient enters the room with a story and should exit with a better one. Amongst us, we have met patients who divulged the desire to smile with pride on wedding day, who sobbed at losing teeth, who discussed their cancer triumphs and fears, and who thanked us for their care. They all form the tapestry of our formative years.

For them, we must have the nerve to deal with nerves, play with words, touch a heart.

For us, what the past four years truly mean will vary. I take with me the knowledge that failure is not determinative of success, self-awareness saves the day, and laughing as you fall softens the ground.

Because make no mistake, we made plenty of mistakes. We all fell here. Literally so during First Year Adventure Trip (FEAT) when we climbed mountains together, but more often figuratively. We struggled to understand, to remember, to plan, to drill, and to let go. We learned which peer or instructor could hold our hand when we needed comfort and which family member could ease the panic of impostor syndrome.

Let the triumph of our training remind us to heed the tinge of fear that heralds a job worth doing. It is that flustered feeling before stepping on stage, or admitting to love, or even accepting a seat at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine. Befriending such fear allows you to make your mistakes and ignore the monsters of ignorance who say you are not as important, prolific, bubbly, calm, or brilliant as you ought to be.

School is not why we succeed; we are. But it takes such a place to realize as much. So, this slice of time we will carry with us as if it took eons to transpire.

We bloomed here. Now, it is on to fresh soil.

Class of 2018
DMD Class of 2018