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With graduation gala canceled, UNLV graduates donate to Las Vegas charities

June 23, 2020

By Kimber Solana

Photo of UNLV Class of 2020
Community: The University of Nevada School of Dental Medicine’s Class of 2020 pose for a photo during their white coat ceremony.
Las Vegas — With their graduation gala cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Nevada School of Dental Medicine’s Class of 2020 were left to ponder what to do with about $9,000 they had raised to fund their celebration festivity.
   
With a nearly unanimous vote among the 83 graduates, the decision was easy: donate it to local charities that would in turn help the vulnerable residents in the city they’ve called home in the past four years.
    
“There was a little bit of emotion of disappointment when we found out we weren’t having a gala or a graduation,” said Dr. Colette Fuglaar, who served as class council vice president. “I’m just glad some good could come out of the situation.”
   
The Class of 2020 donated $2,881 each to three local nonprofits — Three Square, a food bank in the city that provides three meals a day to families with young children; Project 150, which provides basic necessities to homeless, displaced and disadvantaged high school students; and SafeNest, which provides shelter to women suffering from domestic violence.
   
These organizations were chosen because they help people who are greatly affected by the pandemic, Dr. Fuglaar said, citing food shortages in the city and victims of domestic abuse potentially forced to stay-at-home with their abusers.
   
In addition, some of the graduates had shared in the Class of 2020’s Facebook page that their families relied on Three Square and other food banks when they were growing up.
   
"Southern Nevada is experiencing record high rates of food insecurity due to the impact of COVID-19 on unemployment — approximately 447,820 community members don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” said Brian Burton, president and CEO of Three Square Food Bank. “Thanks to the generosity of UNLV dental school’s 2020 class, Three Square can provide an additional 8,400 meals to food-insecure valley residents. Words will never convey how grateful we are to these brilliant graduates for their support.”
   
The Class of 2020’s gala — a tradition at UNLV dental school — was scheduled May 13 at Eastside Cannery Casino-Hotel. Its rooftop deck provides a panoramic view of the Vegas strip. Graduates would dress up, hand out awards and simply celebrate their accomplishment.
   
To pay for the gala, the class council organized fundraising events over the past four years. These include selling apparel with the dental school’s logo to selling Valentine’s Day candy grams.
   
“Everything was in place,” Dr. Fuglaar said. “And then the pandemic hit.”
   
By early May, the students knew the celebration would have to be canceled.
   
Dental school administration asked the students what they would like to do with the $9,000 they’ve raised. Their options included donating the funds to the dental school, purchasing a class gift, redistributing the funds back to the students, or to donating to local charities.
   
“I was pleasantly reminded of how selfless medical professionals are,” said Dr. Caitlin Kemper, student council president. “I thought it was very generous that the students would want all of the money to go to charity, rather than something to commemorate their accomplishment over the last four years.”
   
The also had the option of conducting the gala at a later date, when larger events could resume. However, with half of graduates expected to move out of state and others starting residency programs, it wasn’t a feasible option, Dr. Fuglaar said.
   
“I arrived in September 2019 and was just beginning to know the Class of 2020,” said Dr. Lily T. Garcia, UNLV School of Dental Medicine dean. “They persevered through challenges unlike any have ever experience with their graduating dentists throughout the nation. Their decision to support our community — those in dire need — reflects compassion in a tangible way. Their action represents the best one can hope for in the midst of turmoil.”

Without pomp and circumstance, the council went to each local nonprofit’s website and donated the rest of the funds online.
   
“Community service was drilled in us. In our first two years of dental school, we were volunteering and teaching kids how to brush their teeth. From the get-go, we’ve always been a community minded class,” Dr. Fuglaar said. “Even without the gala or graduation, there’s a sense of closure in our time in dental school knowing we’re helping the community in other ways.”