No one likes to remember their dark past, but it is sometimes necessary to revisit it to truly enjoy the successes of the present. In 2016, Tera Poole made history as the first Black valedictorian of the first dental college in the world in the school’s 176-year of existence. The University of Maryland’s School of Dentistry was established in 1840, 25 years before slavery was abolished.
The first Black person to graduate from the school was in 1972, many years after its establishment.
“The sad part is that the first African-American person didn’t graduate from our dental school until 1972,” Andrea Morgan, a recruitment coordinator at the university said in a phone interview. “It took from 1840 to 1968 for a black person to come and graduate. That’s my lifetime,” Morgan said.
The young Ohio native had been class president for four years and just moments to the graduation, she found out she was the valedictorian of a class of 130 graduating students. She knew she was among the top five but never imagined she will take the top spot in her class.
“Everything, even being valedictorian was a surprise to me,” Poole said in an interview.
Also, it was two days after graduation that Poole discovered she had made world history graduating as the first Black Valedictorian. She captioned a post on social media at the time expressing her joy and gratitude for achieving this feat that her predecessors only dreamt about.
“The tears just keep coming! Officially the FIRST black valedictorian of the world’s FIRST dental school. 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.”
Her support system was nine other students who basically studied together and offered emotional support to one another regarding issues outside the scope of academics.
“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.”
Poole believes achieving one’s goal is within reach for everyone if she was able to attain hers. That is why the quote by science fiction giant Arthur C. Clarke she used to announce her title as Valedictorian resonates so well with her. “The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.”
And in using this, she encourages anyone who wants to venture into healthcare with dreams of specializing to go for it because “her kind of summa cum laude success is possible.”
She went on to specialize in orthodontics at a three-year-residency program at the University of California San Francisco and now runs her private practice in her hometown Cincinnati, Ohio.
Like the world is familiar with the famed Dr. Oz, Poole aspires to be the next Dr. Oz. “I want to be the Dr. Oz of dentistry. Something along those lines,” she said.