By Gemma Greene, blackdoctor.org
It’s one thing to graduate. It’s another thing to be valedictorian. And it’s something even more special with you make history by doing the first two.
Graduate Tera Poole did just that.
As the University of Maryland School Of Dentistry graduation approached, Tera knew she was among the top five students in her class, but she didn’t know where exactly she ranked. When she opened up the graduation program, Poole saw her name at the top as the class valedictorian.
“Everything, even being valedictorian was a surprise to me,” Poole said in an interview.
It wasn’t until two days after graduation that Poole found out she had made history.
This past week, the school made history when it graduated Poole as the first black valedictorian in its 176-year existence.
“The tears just keep coming! Officially the FIRST black valedictorian of the world’s FIRST dental school,” she wrote in a post that has been shared on Instagram, where it received over 60,000 likes.
It has since been shared all across social media, mentioned on blogs and websites and even been seen on TV.
“University of Maryland’s School of Dentistry was chartered in 1840, 25 years before slavery was abolished in the U.S., and 176 years later I have been able to make black history by graduating Summa Cum Laude at a place, when it was founded, I would not have even been able to attend.”
“There are only 65 dental schools and they are a safety net for communities without access to dental care,” says Dr. Jean Sinkford, former Dean of Howard Medical School and associate executive director of the American Dental Education Association.
“Most patients we see in dental schools come from underserved communities but some states don’t have dental schools,” she explained.
“Thirty-one percent of all African American dentists come from Howard and Meharry. Black dentists treat 61.8 percent of Black patients, White dentists only treat 10.5 percent, Hispanics treat 9.8 and Asian dentists only treat 11.5 percent
Out of a class of nearly 130 graduating students, Poole said she and nine other black female students helped each other through dental school. “Sticking together, we knew that we were in this together, that if there were any hardships, we were always there for each other,” she said. “When it came to studying for classes, we’d study together in the library. If it came to things outside of school that we were having hardships with, we always made sure we were there and speaking with each other.”