Open Letter to the 2015 Graduating Class of the Fones School of Dental Hygiene

Open Letter to the 2015 Graduating Class of the Fones School of Dental Hygiene

Dear Fones School of Dental Hygiene, Class of 2015:

Congratulations, you made it! As an adjunct professor of Fones and the daughter of a Fones graduate, it has been my great pleasure to watch each of you grow as students and clinicians, witness your “aha” moments, and help you navigate through some difficult concepts to where you are today – on the brink of receiving your hard-earned diplomas. I have learned as much from each of you as I hope you have learned from me.

Cathy Thiel, Adjunct Professor of Dental Hygiene, holding the Purple Knights cap of her mom, Joann DeAngelis ’65

My mother, Joann DeAngelis, graduated from Fones in 1965, so she would be celebrating her 50th reunion if she was still with us today. She was the first in her family to attend college, and her University of Bridgeport diploma still hangs on the living room wall of her childhood home. I spent my childhood visiting my grandparents and admiring that diploma. I could not wait to attend college and follow in my mother’s footsteps. I loved hearing stories of her shenanigans with her roommate and friends, and all of the hard work that went into becoming a dental hygienist in her day. I looked forward to the day when I could experience my own shenanigans and my own hard work!

But when the time came for me to apply to college, my mother encouraged me to see the world and carve my own path, separate from hers. She would have loved nothing more than to have me close to home at Fones, but knew that I would grow stronger leaving the nest. As a mother now myself, I am in awe of the strength it took her to wave goodbye to me on that August morning in 1992 when I embarked on a 1,000 mile journey to attend dental hygiene school in Wisconsin. Now here I am at Fones, a half-century after my mother graduated, fully aware that the path my mother sent me on simply led me back home.

So much has changed in the field of dental hygiene since my mother’s days at UB. In 1965, I bet she never dreamed that RDHs would ever practice independently, deliver local anesthetic, or wear pants!

Then again, much has remained the same. As I rummaged through my mother’s old photos from Fones, I came across headshots of her friends with their handwriting on the back. Her roommate, Marilyn, scratched a note about “weathering the storm” together at UB and all of the fun they had when they weren’t studying. Her friend Sue noted that the “trauma” at UB was “worth it” because it sparked their friendship.


I know that all of you, as graduating students today, can relate to the “storm” and  the “trauma” that it takes any student to meet the vigorous academic requirements needed to obtain a diploma. But I want you to appreciate that, while the work was hard, it was worth it. You have made it to the other side and you are better people for it.

Soon, you will forget the stress and remember only the good times. Whenever my mother recalled her UB days when I was growing up, it was always a happy story that would make her smile. I hope your memories of UB will always give you a big, bright, healthy smile too!

So again, thank you for the opportunity to teach and inspire you, and to keep my mother’s legacy of teaching and caring alive.

Good luck in all that you do. Never stop learning!!


Cathy Thiel, RDH, BSDH
Adjunct Professor of Dental Hygiene
Fones School of Dental Hygiene