Stages of Life

John D.B. Featherstone

Dean John D.B. Featherstone

Last month, we welcomed our class of 2021 to the School of Dentistry. The activities surrounding their arrival included the induction ceremony — our “white coat” ceremony. This exciting event truly signifies the transition our new students are making, into a brand-new stage of life.

This occasion is, as I said in my remarks to the class, a commencement. It marks the first day of their lives as professional health care providers. It is exciting to step into that role, one that will last much of their lives.

It’s thrilling as well for what I call the support team: the family and friends of the new students. It is a new phase of life for them as well.

For couples, this signals a big change: A spouse may now be a bigger source of support — emotional, sometimes financial — for their partner. For other students, the support role may fall to brothers and sisters — who also may feel a tremendous sense of pride in their sibling. For equally proud parents, this is an exciting and positive step in family life, right up with giving birth to a child. Your baby is no longer a baby, not a youth anymore, not even an undergraduate anymore, but now in a doctoral program — a new, often challenging stage of life. That transition may be especially poignant when it’s the last of one’s children that’s embarking on a professional career, as it was for at least one of our incoming student families.

As part of our welcome activities, we included a panel of three alumni discussing their lives as School of Dentistry graduates — what they’ve done with their lives, what they’ve done in dentistry — and offering their advice to the class of 2021. They too are in a different stage of life: one that allows them to give back to the school in various ways.

Coinciding with these activities, the school has confirmed two major donors who have committed to launching a campaign to upgrade part of our clinical specialty facilities. They also are at a unique stage of life, where they are in a position to be a support team for our school, one could say.

Of course, I and those close to me are not immune to the changes brought about in each stage of life. My youngest son and his girlfriend note that many in their social circle are tying the knot or taking the leap into parenthood. At the other end of the spectrum, I find myself attending more funerals than weddings, sometimes even presiding over services. The loss of loved ones, dear friends, esteemed colleagues — we never really get used to this. Again, we turn to our support team to get us through those trying times.

I can’t stress enough to our students, how important that support team is. It might be classmates; it might be an older sibling. The support services UCSF offers may be just the support one needs — not just for students, but for faculty or staff as well. All one has to do is ask.

I am looking forward to spending more time with my own personal support team. Come January 2018, I’m sure you know I will start a brand-new stage of life as I step down as dean and faculty member. The various members of my support team have been at my side for the last decade as dean, the last 45 years as faculty. It will be a new and exciting stage not just for myself, but I hope for them as well.

Postscript: As I add the finishing touches to my writings this month, the wildfires in the North Bay and beyond continue to rage out of control, claiming lives and burning hundreds of houses and businesses to the ground. At least one of our faculty and her husband escaped with their lives as their house burned; another young couple close to me also escaped, but still do not know whether their home is gone. Our hearts go out to all those affected. For the thousands devastated by this disaster, this begins a stage of life filled not with joy, but with dread. We are reminded that life can change in an instant: We should be grateful for what we have and for those dear to us, for they can be gone in the blink of an eye. Events such as these put life into perspective and help us to reconsider the things that truly are important. 

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