Alum’s Visit Inspires Class Donation
Dr. William Bennett has had several career changes through the years, but one thing has remained a constant: the importance of relationships in his life. “My father was a football coach and spent his entire life molding young men,” says Bennett, who earned both medical and dental degrees, in 2005 and 2010 respectively, from Georgia Regents University. “I saw that played out throughout my childhood, and it became my goal.”
Hitting His Stride
Bennett didn’t just want a job; he wanted to be a role model, positively influencing impressionable young minds. Even the pharmaceutical career that preceded medical school opened doors for meeting new people and creating lasting bonds. But it wasn’t until he became a health care professional that he really hit his stride. He enrolled in the Medical College of Georgia in 2001. “It was a childhood dream to become a physician, and it was wonderful to have an opportunity to do that,” he says.
Still, medicine wasn’t quite the right fit. Soon after earning his medical degree, Bennett enrolled in the College of Dental Medicine, where he reveled in nonstop support and camaraderie. “You make extremely good friends in dental school, and they make the whole process worthwhile,” he says. “Sometimes, I’d be struggling with something that came easily to my friends, and vice-versa, so we’d lean on each other. In dental school, your class stays together for all four years, so the bonds of friendship really carry you through.”
He also seized opportunities in dental school that forged bonds that persist to this day. For instance, he was national Vice President of the American Student Dental Association and initiated students’ inaugural trip to Dental Student Lobby Day in Atlanta. All of the Class of 2010 became life members of the Alumni Association and contributed a significant class gift to their alma mater.
Making an Impact
After earning his dental degree, Bennett completed an orthodontics residency at the University of Colorado and now practices the specialty in Rome, Ga. “I expected to be a general dentist, but I spent a lot of time with an orthodontist during my senior year, and I was hooked. I like the age group—lots of pre-teens,” he says. “Because orthodontists see their patients so often for a couple of years, they have a huge opportunity to have an impact on their patients’ lives and hopefully be able to make a difference.”
And, of course, he relishes the beautiful smiles that his patients carry into their futures. “Most of my patients, even if they hate the process of orthodontia, are really appreciative and love the results,”Bennett says. “You’re helping to create self-esteem and self-worth. It’s a neat job.”
He is eminently grateful that GRU made his dream of lifelong service come true. “I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to go to school there,” he says.
A $2 Bill
He exhibits his gratitude in many ways, including by annually visiting GRU College of Dental Medicine freshmen during orientation. He treats them to lunch and encourages them not only to savor every minute of their upcoming education, but to support the school that is making it possible. He also gives each of them a special gift: a $2 bill.
“My mother was a math teacher and a very practical mother of five,” Bennett says. “When I turned 16, she gave me a $2 bill. She told me if I never spent it, I would never be broke. I’ve incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loan debt, but I guess I’ve never been broke.”
The gesture – and the spirit that guides it – is much appreciated. “William is a unique combination of philanthropist, entrepreneur, and public servant,” says Dr. Carole Hanes, College of Dental Medicine Associate Dean for Students, Admissions, and Alumni. “I respect and appreciate his amazing loyalty to things that are important to him: his family, his profession, his state, and his alma mater. He gives not only of himself, but each year finds a way to return to our campus and encourage our incoming students to give back. He speaks from the heart and they respond. We are genuinely grateful for his generosity and his ability to bring out the generosity in others.”
Dr. Will Brantley, an Augusta dentist who graduated in 2014, concurs. “I remember Dr. Bennett speaking to our class, encouraging us to leave a legacy and make a difference.”
Brantley, class president for all four years of dental school, encouraged his classmates to begin contributing toward a class donation. “Dr. Bennett’s visit was the impetus to make a donation, and after internal discussion with our class, we agreed on an amount.”
Brantley attended dental school with his brother, Chad, who served as class treasurer all four years. The brothers learned firsthand to share Bennett’s appreciation for the lifelong bonds forged in dental school. “We had teachers who were invested in our success, and we developed incredible camaraderie with our classmates,” says Brantley.
The class raised $30,000 for the College of Dental Medicine, logging nearly 100 percent participation every year of dental school. “One of the unique ways we were able to leverage the funds was purchasing new intra-oral cameras for the clinics we would be working in,” Brantley says. “That way, we were able to personally benefit from the donation, as well as leave our mark for future classes.” The remainder of the donation went to the building fund.
Best Job in the World
Bennett, who was recently honored as an inaugural member of GRU’s Jag 20, a group of emerging alumni leaders under age 40, is thrilled that his visit left a lasting impression. “I feel strongly that I have the best job in the world,” he says. “I try to help the students see what a gift the taxpayers of the state of Georgia are giving them: the opportunity to have a comfortable living, the opportunity to be their own boss, set their own hours, and, most importantly, care for people. It’s one of the biggest honors of your life.”
His alma mater has made clear that the appreciation is mutual. Upon his graduation, Dean Connie Drisko created the William G. Bennett Leadership Award, benefiting a student who exemplifies leadership qualities, in his honor.
Bennett laughs that volunteerism and altruism can have unexpected benefits. He recently married wife Mary Taylor, an Indiana native, whom he met through the American Student Dental Association. Fresh back from his honeymoon, he noted, “She’s learning to love my very large family. On our wedding day, she went from zero nieces and nephews to 15. Oh, and she loves the warm weather, too.”