“It Takes a Village to Raise a Dentist”

Posted by on May 22, 2016 | 3 Comments

I was sitting at my little bean-shaped Narrator table on the lobby landing today, finishing another story, when I noticed the tell-tale signs that a graduation had just occurred: flat black boards and flowing black gowns.  Then the inevitable hat hair (only on the guys, of course).  I couldn’t tell if they were high school grads or college grads, but then a young woman entered the lobby holding an oversized Crest toothpaste balloon.  Marquette University’s new dentists.  Because I know a good handful of dental students there, I headed up to the Grand Ballroom.

“It takes a whole village to raise a dentist,” proclaimed the new Dr. Zazell Staheli to a packed crowd in the ballroom for the School of Dentistry’s graduation luncheon for the Class of 2016.  Dr. Staheli and eighty others graduated with everyone at the BMO Harris Bradley Center this morning, then were presented with their School of Dentistry diplomas at the Pfister luncheon.

This short post is about two villages.  The first, of course, is the one Dr. Staheli spoke about when she thanked everyone who helped her juggle dental school and raise a family, everyone who ever got her coffee to keep her going, everyone who helped her survive the “stressful rubber dam final.”  To her classmates and the hundreds of friends and family present, her challenge was to “be involved,” whether that meant mentoring, volunteering, giving back to the community, or something entirely different.  She called her new title–doctor–a “leadership title” that charged her and everyone else to lead by example, to “be the difference” (echoing Marquette’s motto).  I learned from the Marquette Magazine that Dr. Staheli hails from Kiana, a small town in Alaska of fewer than 400 mostly Iñupiaq Eskimos, surrounded by remote villages that are 30-150 miles away.  She will be returning to Alaska and will be providing her hometown and its neighboring villages with dental services, something that used to be difficult to come by.  Talk about giving back to her community.  It helps that she’s a commercial pilot.  Here she is being featured on National Geographic’s Alaska Wing Men.

Now, onto the second village.  One of this year’s graduates is Dr. Ben Schwabe, who will be leaving soon to serve in the Dental Corps at the Naval Station Great Lakes in Illinois.  Today, he was commissioned by Capt. Brian Hodgson, DC, USN, as part of the ceremony.


Commissioning ceremony. Dr. Ben Schwabe, second from right.

In a moment of insight and profundity, he recalled his first time actually “getting in there” (my quotes).  “It was our Dentures course.  These people, of course, have no teeth, which is kind of funny.  At first, we’re all timid, holding the patients’ jaws open, kind of looking there.”  He bobbed his head around as if searching for something to polish or pull out.  “Now, we can just pry their jaws open and move in.  No problem.” In all serious, though, Dr. Schwabe is going to miss being part of the village of classmates and teachers.  He said, “Going through hell with people who are going through the same thing as you–that’s what I’m going to miss the most.  And not ‘hell,’ really, but rigor.”

I know Ben as a former “tribe” leader (along with Daniel Birk Graham) for November Project Milwaukee, a free and fun fitness group that meets every Wednesday and Friday at 6:26 am for cardio and strength training that always ends with sweaty hugs and high fives.

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Our teeth look pretty good!

When Ben learned that he’d been offered the residency at the Naval Station Great Lakes, he passed the torch to a new leader.  For almost two years, I have been “raised” into something close to my best self by Daniel and Ben (now Roger).  Here’s an example of our November Project village’s farewell workout for Ben (I mean “Dr. Schwabe”), a testament to how much he means to our village/tribe:

And more photos from today:


Preparing to process into the Grand Ballroom.


Doctoral robes. Designed for comfort.


Fancy mirror shot. Everyone proud of Ben!


Ben and his grandparents.



  • Jennifer Fritz-Millard

    It takes a lot of crazy to raise a Family Nurse Practitioner.

    My professional journey was filled a crazy dose of fun, a large brood of children and a horrifIc learning curve. Yet I would not take back those expereinces for any other life. I was one of those long, long time learners who earned many degrees and yet was not yet satisfied. I remember best walking across that stage during my final and (4th) graduation, that I was introduced as the mother of Samantha, Rachel, and Gabrielle …Jennifer Fritz-Millard. I never heard my own name as I was crying and my family and crowd were roaring. I was so proud. Perhaps cocky at that moment. It felt good.

    I dragged 1 twin year old twin babies and a 2 year old to a lot of classes for my fellow students to practice on. It sounds worse than it was. Most of my classmates had never had children, had never touched one, and found them terrifying. Which they are!

    The truth is my husband deserved this last degree more than me. Working full time and taking care of young babies with me just providing pumped breast milk for him to feed them. He never complained. Of course there were always those occasional late night kicking episodes that it’s “your turn to get that one”. Never quite knowing which twin it was. Plug in, sleep, cry, switch, plug another in. Etc. Truthfully I’m fairly sure neither got equal night feedings.

    He was my rock. My village also included the teachers at Seattle University. They moved trash cans to right outside the classroom when the morning sickness with my twins turned into all day fun (for everyone one).. The Dean who allowed me a special “pumping room” between sessions to keep up my milk. Katherine went way above and beyond. Then there was my rock Ken, a veteran, who had gone back to school and kept telling me I was pregnant though I told him it was impossible. “Nah it’s just the flu” I emphatically declared. My oldest was only 3 months old.

    That brave,50 to 60 year old man drug me to the student health care center to check and held me as I cried at the results.
    It was not the end of the world, I was happily married and my family thrilled. I was advised to quit scool. I did not. The faculty allowed me great support in my journey, but they believed in me! I may have become a school oddity and birth control poster all in one. Swinging two car seats with a slightly bigger child holding my shirt to drag her up a horribly steep hills way too often.

    When I started working as a Family Nurse Practitioner I realized, not only was I good as my job, I excelled at it. All the while switching roles with my husband everyday for we both wanted to raise our own children.. I said “if someone is gonna screw their lives it will be their parents”.

    In my professional life, I meet people, tell them things they do not want to hear but for some reason they often respond and make positive health choices. I’ve have very few failures changes, and loved the satisfaction of the few real succeses. After all the teasing I had received over having a previous bachelor’s of science in biology, psychology, theology, and a BSN in nursing did pay off. I can connect with patients on many levels.

    I will always will have some regrets about never joining Doctors without borders, or serving my country.

    But, I will always respect what they do. I did not have that courage. I didn’t want to leave my babies…My career fulfilling, satisfying, stressful, yet, I know longer doubt this is where I was supposed to be.

    I am humbled by those that trusted me and loved me enough to help me achieve this career. My take away is follow your dreams. They may not happen at once, but the the path is twisty and fully worth it! It took a small town named Chester, Montana along with many others to help me do this. I did not, nor could have achieved this without my village!

    • Dominic Inouye

      You have NOTHING to regret, Jennifer! I am so glad you’ve shared this part of your life with me, with us. Your learning is a creation, your relationship with your husband is a creation, your children are, obviously, creations.

  • Dominic Inouye

    You’re giving a commencement speech to this year’s graduates (of any class). What’s your theme? What’s your advice?

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