When Randy Bagay walked across the stage today during the College of Dentistry’s commencement ceremony to take his military oath of office, he received a standing ovation. Three months ago, while completing his last semester as a dental student, Bagay was diagnosed with leukemia.
A native Memphian and graduate of the University of Memphis, Bagay served in the U.S. Navy for 14 years before deciding to go to dental school. Students from the college recently held bone marrow drives to help him find a transplant match. The college was also able to raise $700 to donate to him for his treatment. In addition to having an excellent GPA, the new UTHSC alumnus served as vice-president for the Dentistry Class of 2019.
The 119 graduates had the honor of hearing from United States Navy Captain Lena Hartzell during the ceremony. Captain Hartzell serves as the Medical Inspector General for the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.
“When it came time to select a speaker, I wanted someone special and to speak on the topic of service,” said James C. Ragain, DDS, MS, PhD, FICD, FACD, dean of the College of Dentistry. “As a dental professional, the service you give back to your country or your community is so important. It’s not just taking, but also giving back – serving. It’s nice to have someone from the military to speak on service, since they have given back to their country.”
Captain Hartzell’s tours of duty as a dental officer include a seven-month deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, as well as Tikrit, Iraq, as a translator and political adviser for the Coalition Provisional Authority. Her list of military decorations includes the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal.
Captain Hartzell also administered the oath of office to graduates entering the military. It is the second year the college has included the military oath of office as part of their commencement exercises.
Those inducted were:
- Bagay, entering the United States Navy, accompanied by Dr. Larry Weeda, Captain, Dental Corps, United States Navy, Retired
- Connor Dennison, entering the United States Air Force, accompanied by Dr. Leeby Greenblatt, Captain, Dental Corps, United States Air Force, Retired
- Lauren Lilly, entering the United States Navy, accompanied by Dr. James Ragain Jr., Captain, Dental Corps, United States Navy, Retired
Today’s commencement ceremony was a special one for Dean Ragain. Not only did the occasion mark his first commencement as dean, but the graduates of the Class of 2019 received one of their very first lectures as dentistry students from him.
“I gave these students one of their first lectures, because I was teaching here then,” he said. “And then I taught them in the labs and in the clinics. Now, I’m going to get to hand them their degrees, and that is very special to me.”
In 2018, Dr. Ragain became dean of the College of Dentistry, after serving as an associate professor in Restorative Dentistry and interim chair of the Department of General Practice Dentistry. Dr. Ragain is an alumnus of the college, earning his dental degree in 1984 and being commissioned into the Navy Dental Corps. He rose to the ranks of Naval Captain before he retired.
C.L. Greenblatt, DDS, past-president of the College of Dentistry Alumni Board of Trustees, welcomed the graduates into the University of Tennessee Alumni Association.
WREG News Channel 3’s Tim Simpson recently stopped by campus to tell Randy Bagay’s story on Pass It On.