At our annual Student Awards Ceremony, we heard a very special speech from Dr. Jill Young. Dr. Young is a former Central Scholarship recipient who received her doctorate in dental surgery from the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Her message of perseverance through adversity left us, and the entire audience, so inspired by her words that we felt it was important to share with our entire community.
Dr. Jill Young
2019 Student Speaker
I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland with a family that valued education. In High School, I casually came to the conclusion that I would become a dentist, even though no one in my family was a doctor or had received a doctorate degree. I had met maybe 2 Black dentists in my entire life and only 1 of them was female. But for some reason it just seemed so simple. I would just become a dentist.
One day at an after-school program, one of the volunteers was asking each of us what we wanted to be. And of course, I told her I wanted to be a dentist. I will always remember when she turned to me and said, “Well that is a nice idea. Maybe you can be a dental assistant.”
And I remember looking at her like she was an alien from outer space. I thought to myself, “Did she not understand what I just said? I said that I am going to be a dentist.”
But she did understand what I had said. She just didn’t believe it. And what I didn’t know was that this would be just the first of many people who would doubt that I could do what I had set out to do.
In spite of these doubts, I continued to work hard and not only did I get into college, I was accepted into Johns Hopkins University with a full scholarship.
At every turn, I learned to push through the negative opinions of a few people. But eventually I could not deny that there were seeds of doubt starting to form in my own mind. I remember starting out at Hopkins and wondering if I really could make it there. I was thrown into science classes with the Pre-medical students in large lecture halls that held at least 100 students. It was a hard transition and I was struggling in a Chemistry class that I knew I needed in order to get into dental school. At the end of the semester, I had done very poorly in that class and was questioning whether becoming a dentist would be a reality.
I met with my college counselor at Hopkins who stared me straight in the eye and told me if I wanted to get into dental school, the only way would be if I took another Chemistry class that summer and got an “A.” Otherwise, I could forget it. I looked at her like she was an alien from outer space. How could I possibly get an “A” in that very difficult class? For the first time, I wondered if my dream was pretty much over.
But somehow I decided to take a chance. I studied harder than I had ever studied and I constantly asked for help wherever I could get it. I still was not sure it would be enough. After our first exam that summer, I remember calling my mother almost in tears. Not only had I earned an “A,” but my professor had announced the highest score in the class, and that score was mine.
After college, I attended an intense summer program at the University of North Carolina that helps students to prepare and gain admission to medical and dental school. At the end of what I thought was a successful summer, I met with a counselor there to discuss my progress. I went into that meeting feeling confident. I told him how I was prepared to apply to dental school, that I had my application ready to go, had written my essay and had it edited by mentors I trusted and I had been studying for the admissions exam and had a date already set. To my surprise, he responded by telling me that he felt I was too soft-spoken and not aggressive enough to become a dentist. And he kept repeating “Well what if you don’t do well on your admissions exam? You may not do well. And you are not going to get in to dental school if you do not do well.”
Again, I had met another alien from outer space who just didn’t understand that I was on my way to something greater.
I told him that I thought I would do well. And I did. And despite his conclusion that I was too soft-spoken, I excelled in my admission interviews and earned admission to every dental school I applied to, except of course his dental school.
Now that I am Dr. Jill Young, I’m so glad that I pushed past all of that. Every day of the past year since graduating dental school, it has been a privilege to see patients and to help them achieve their best oral health. I have helped to get people out of pain, to be able to eat and speak better, and to smile and socialize proudly. Time and time again I have been humbled by all of these experiences.
For every one person who doubted me, I had an abundance of support from family, friends, mentors, and teachers. I had a single mother who made a lot of sacrifices for me so that we could live in a safe neighborhood with a good school system and who taught me how to lean on my Spiritual faith in difficult times. I was also blessed to have a father who encouraged me in my academics and told me I could be anything I wanted to be. I had countless relatives, friends and mentors who cheered me on.
They may not have all had a doctorate degree but what they had, they paid it forward.
But the most surprising to me, has been the overwhelming support that came from people who started out as strangers and became my greatest champions. From teachers and professors that believed in me and tutored and prepared me, to classmates and friends who were along for the journey and lifted me up when I was down.
And then, when I got into dental school I found the Central Scholarship Program. It is still difficult for me to wrap my mind around the fact that people who didn’t even know me would be so generous and willing to help students like me to achieve their dreams. I am truly grateful.
Over and over again, I have been touched by people who – once they had made their own dreams come true – turned around and helped me on my way too. This community of very special people paid it forward and it made all the difference in my life.
To my fellow Central Scholars, I am so proud of you and your perseverance. Let us take the time to be thankful to all of the people in our lives, including the people at the Central Scholarship Program, who believed in all of our seemingly impossible hopes and dreams and helped us fly. I know that in time you will achieve everything your heart desires. And when that time comes, let us be inspired to pay it forward too – whatever that may look like for you.