“It Takes a Village to Raise a Dentist”

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.



Going Somewhere

It’s early evening. The downtown streets are still basked in sunshine and summer dresses. Bursts of citrus colors, flirty fabrics and bare shoulders breeze past the open patio windows of Mason Street Grill.

Inside, the lounge hums with an eager energy. Friends fill the space with animated banter. The largest group, four well-dressed couples, cluster along the bar. I imagine them relieved to abandon To Do lists and attaché cases for the evening. Perhaps they’ll enjoy a steak dinner inside the restaurant.  Maybe they’ll go dancing.  However their night unfolds, it is clear they’ve decided to do something.

The jazz trio reaches the end of its first set, and the crowd begins to thin. I notice them then, seated at a low table.  They are absorbing the entire room now: the mahogany paneled walls, the grand piano, the sumptuous curve of the bar, the glint of men’s expensive watches, the dimming light and the pervasive sense of Going Somewhere.  They were just a couple of teenagers.

Onteria and his girlfriend, Victoria, are graduating seniors heading off to college in the fall. They were being treated to a well-deserved celebration by one of Onteria’s mentors.

“I always knew I wanted to go to college,” Onteria tells me.  Clearly, having earned a full scholarship to prestigious Morehouse College in Atlanta.  He is handsome with an infectious smile.  He tells me he’d like to study Psychology or Physical Therapy.

“How about you?” I ask Victoria, who’s heading to Tennessee State University, another HBCU favorite.

“Nursing,” she says without effect, “if I don’t change my major or something.”

“Don’t stress about that now,” I say. “Sixty percent of college students change their major at least once.” The handy stat was lodged in my brain from years of delivering college readiness presentations to high schools and college freshman.

Victoria regards me thoughtfully.  She’s slender with elegant features.  Her eyes are sharp, and I’m not sure if she’s assessing or evaluating me.

We talk about plans for their last few months in Milwaukee before landing on the topic of all the uncertainties waiting for them at the edge of summer.

“I’m not sure what I’m afraid of,” Onteria says, that smile curling around his words. “It seems like we were just in 10th grade.”

Victoria considers before speaking, “I hope it’s all going to be worth it.”

Like 60,000 other Wisconsin graduates, Victoria and Onteria will decide whether their studying, late nights, aggravating teachers, deadlines, stressful rules, afternoons and weekends spent in workshops, tournaments and clubs and worrying about every possible thing in order to spend years away from home under grueling university study and agonizing personal reconstruction will, as promised, be worth it all.

Her statement hangs in the air.  Onteria looks at Victoria and Victoria looks at me.  This is not the time to fan out platitudes.

“I won’t lie, honey.  You might go through years of school and still not find a job. Or get a job you might have gotten without the degree.  But luck is really about being prepared when opportunities happen.  College puts you in the path of ‘lucky’.”

I pause.  She keeps her eyes on me.  I continue.

I tell her how the most fantastic lessons will happen outside the classroom:  dealing with that one chick in her dorm, negotiating extra credit, managing family drama from a distance, really stretching a dollar, surviving a breakup with the one, competing for internships and balancing heavier counterweights and freedoms.

“No matter what happens, you will be more,” I say.  It’s one of my mother’s favorite affirmations. “At the end, you will know what you’re made of. You’ll have struggled, stumbled and stood up over and over again.  And, yes, you’ll make lifelong friends.  Job or no job, you’ve earned the chance to have a college experience strengthen you.  That, I promise, will be worth it.”

Those eyes, they were glistening now.

“Please tell me those are happy tears and I didn’t make you feel worse,” I say.

She finally gives me a shy smile.  “I’m okay,” she says.  “It’s just kindof a lot to get used to.”

“You will,” I say.  “No one expects either one of you to be expert college students in the first week.  Figuring that out is part of the journey.  Make sure you enjoy it, though.  College is your last stop before full-grown adulthood, and let me tell ya …”

We laugh and guide the conversation back to summertime, me eager to be the listener again. The kids drift back to their own conversation and I fall into one with the mentor. As she talks, I watch Onteria and Victoria chat and tease near the patio windows.  It’s dark outside now, yet they are still two bursts of sunlight.  They, too, are filled with a sense of Going Somewhere.