Tera Pool takes a moment during her Valedictorian speech at the University of Maryland’s School of Dentistry. (Courtesy Photo)
(Updated 6/9/2016) Tera Poole recently made history when she became the first Black valedictorian at the University of Maryland’s School of Dentistry in May. Known as the world’s first dentistry school, the university was established as Baltimore College of Dental Surgery is 1840.
Poole talked to the AFRO about becoming the first Black valedictorian at the school. She discussed how strong study habits, and good support systems helped her to become the top student in her graduating class. “I kind of just went into the school knowing that I wanted to give it all that I could, and that I wanted to stay focused on my end goal, which is to be an orthodontist,” Poole said.
Along with being dedicated to her studies, Poole was also very involved in various activities while pursuing her education at the University of Maryland’s School of Dentistry. “I made use of all the opportunities that were given to me, in terms of getting involved”, said Poole, “I was class president for all four years, and I was involved in many organizations.”
After four years of dentistry school, Poole, a native of Cincinnati, Ohio, knew she was one of the top in her class, but had no idea that she was number one until graduation day. “Going into graduation, I thought I was number three, but I was still happy and so proud of it,” said Poole.
It wasn’t until she opened up the graduation program that she realized that she was valedictorian. “When I opened the program and saw that I was number one, it was surreal.”
Poole has been featured on numerous websites such as essence.com, and is happy that a doctor is being featured next to “celebrities like Cam Newton,” because “It’s something that you don’t often see.”
Poole is grateful for so much positive coverage that she has received for becoming the first Black valedictorian at the historic school, but also discussed seeing some negative “racial” comments “on a few web sites.
However, Poole had some encouraging words for others who are trying to pursue their goals.
“I would tell them what I told myself when I read those comments,” said Poole. “Don’t get discouraged, and don’t let that take away from your focus. You’re always going to have a few doubts and you’re always going to have people second guessing your choices…Or some people who want to say something just to say something, but always be true to what you feel the right decision is for you, and no one else can tell you otherwise.”
Poole also discussed how having a strong support system help her along the way, and cited her father, who is a general dentist, and her fiancé as two of the people who greatly encouraged her.
“We were both in the books at times,” said Poole referring to her fiancé, “and you need a break or you’re driving yourself stir crazy and questioning, ‘Is this even worth it?’ We were definitely each other’s rocks for those times.”
Poole also acknowledged the support that she received from “The Nine,” a group which included herself and eight other Black female students in her class. “I knew that if there was an issue,” said PooIe, “that I could count on ‘The Nine.’”
While Poole is excited about her recent accomplishment she is already preparing for the future. “I’ll be doing a three year Orthodontic Residency at the University of California, San Francisco starting in July,” Poole said, “and also providing resources for students and young professionals.”