Known for 176 years as the world’s first dental school, the Maryland School of Dentistry recently celebrated another milestone: the graduation of its first black summa cum laude recipient.
Class president Dr. Tera Poole learned of the honor just minutes before going onstage to give a commencement speech.
“I was class president for four years, but this was easily the biggest speech I’ve given -- I did cry,” Poole, an Ohio native, said. “But I got a lot of support from the audience.”
Although she knew she was the top-ranked student at the time of her speech, it wasn’t until two days later that she and the other students and faculty learned she was the first black student to carry the distinction.
Poole regarded being the first black summa cum laude graduate as a nice bit of trivia until she began hearing from others inspired by her accomplishment.
“I’m hearing from a lot of minority students in the health care field who say they’re looking up to me,” she said. “Now, it’s something more -- now I’m really appreciating it.”
It’s a journey she almost didn’t make. As the daughter of a dentist, Poole wanted to be an architect until age 16, when she took an interest in continuing her father’s work.
The University of Maryland graduated its first black dentist, Elton Maddox Jr., in 1972. Five years later, the school’s first female black student, Debra Bass, graduated.
Poole plans to start her residency in San Francisco in July and looks forward to opening her own private practice someday.
“I want to tell people pursuing a career in health care, especially minorities, that they can reach their goal,” she said. “If they need to, they can use me as inspiration.”