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Dr. Roberts to dental school graduates: Look for that ‘little piece of gold’

June 05, 2017

By Kimber Solana

ADA President Gary Roberts at Texas A&M College of Dentistry
Lessons: ADA President Gary Roberts gave a commencement speech May 23 at Texas A&M College of Dentistry. Sharing stories from his time in dental school, Dr. Roberts told the graduating class to stay resilient. “What sets successful dentists apart from unsuccessful ones is their ability to confront change, and not be immobilized by it,” he said.
Photo by Steven Doll/Dentistry Insider

Dallas — When ADA President Gary Roberts was a dental student, he occasionally found himself in the bushes looking for a small piece of gold.

He had a crown and bridge professor who, if he didn’t like the student’s cast crown, would throw it out from the third floor window.

Gold was $32 an ounce back then, said Dr. Roberts, who graduated from Baylor University School of Dentistry in 1977.

“We had no money, let alone money to buy gold,” he said. “So down I went into the bushes. I found that little piece of gold.”

Dr. Roberts shared this story May 23 in a commencement speech to this year’s graduating class of his alma mater (renamed Texas A&M College of Dentistry in 2016) as a lesson in resiliency as they leave dental school and become practicing dentists. He also spoke June 3 at the University of Alabama.

“Dentistry isn’t an easy career,” he said. “You’ll face roadblocks that you’ll be powerless to change.”

Comparing dental school to running a marathon, Dr. Roberts told the students that the exhaustion and stress they experienced better equipped them to keep the pace with their post-dental school careers. However, from providing patient care and managing a practice to learning about new regulations and raising a family, that feeling of stress and exhaustion won’t go away, he said.

“What sets successful dentists apart from unsuccessful ones is their ability to confront change, and not be immobilized by it,” he said.

It’s important, he added, to not waste time on things a person can’t change, and instead only focus energy on those you can.

“If you do that, you’ll find something more valuable than a career,” he said. “You’ll find purpose, and you’ll find success.”

Like searching for a piece of gold crown, it takes effort and work to find purpose and success. It’s often not about the size of your practice, the car you drive, the house you live in or even the amount of care you donate, Dr. Roberts said.

“Each of those might be part of your success, but it shouldn’t define it,” Dr. Roberts said. “Instead, set high expectations for yourself. Always expect more from yourself than you do from anyone else.” Which goes back to a lesson he learned from his dental school days.

“Stay resilient,” he said. “Never stop looking for that little gold crown in the bushes.”