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CU Dental Commencement Speaker Brett Kessler, DDS, Recognized with Honorary Alumni Award

“It’s a beautiful thing to give back, and it was clear that doing the next right thing could lead to amazing opportunities.”

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Written by Laura Ramsey on May 29, 2024

In his powerful commencement speech to the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine (CU SDM) Class of 2024, Brett Kessler, DDS, shared that he entered dental school with a substance abuse problem, and graduated with a worse substance abuse problem. “I went from rock bottom to living what I consider my best life possible. It’s possible for any and all of us.”

He credits that to the power of doing the next right thing. 

After turning to his dental community for help, Kessler used his personal experiences and compassion for others to offer free dental care to people in recovery who had nowhere else to turn. He said, “It’s a beautiful thing to give back, and it was clear that doing the next right thing could lead to amazing opportunities.”

Throughout his impressive career trajectory, Kessler has helped countless individuals receive much-needed oral healthcare; he has mentored hundreds of students and dentists; he has impacted the profession and the public through national and state legislature; and he speaks nationally on well-being and leadership topics to help dentists live their best lives.

Kessler incorporated some of this wisdom in his commencement speech, encouraging the DDS Class of 2024 to prioritize their own health and wellness: “You are your most valuable asset – take care of yourself as such.” He broke down wellness to five dimensions:  

  • Physical: “Take care of your body,”  
  • Mental: “Every day, find ways to nurture your mind,”  
  • Emotional: “Feel your emotions to the maximum extent every single day,”  
  • Social: “Humans are meant to connect,” and
  • Spiritual: “When you apply what you’ve learned to the service of others, you’ll forge a spiritual bond with your patients, and it’s my hope that you will experience this connection in a big way.”  

Kessler has served as a part-time faculty member at the CU SDM for many years and continues to be an incredible mentor, teacher and friend.  


Rick Mediavilla, DDS '00, presents the CU SDM Honorary Alumni Award to Brett Kessler, DDS, at the DDS Class of 2024 Commencement Ceremony.

Following his speech, Kessler was presented with the CU School of Dental Medicine Honorary Alumni Award. The award is for esteemed individuals who have contributed significantly to the betterment of our students and to the advancement of the school's ideals.  

CU SDM Dean Denise Kassebaum, DDS, MS, said, “Dr. Kessler is an inspiration to us. He epitomizes the engaged practitioner that our CU Dental alumni come to represent.”  

This fall, Kessler will be installed as president of the American Dental Association (ADA) – the first dentist from Colorado to hold the position.  

On receiving this prominent recognition, Kessler said, “I am incredibly humbled and honored to receive the CU School of Dental Medicine Honorary Alumni Award. Over the years, I've had the privilege to work alongside some of the brightest minds in dentistry at this esteemed institution, and the passion and dedication of our students and faculty inspire me every day—something I carry with me today as the ADA President-elect and when I’m installed as the ADA President this fall."  

Kessler served as president of the Colorado Dental Association from 2014 to 2015 and has held several leadership positions within the ADA, from delegate in the ADA’s House of Delegates, to consultant to the Council on Dental Wellbeing Advisory Committee, to vice chair of the Council on Dental Benefit Plans. In 2010, he received the ADA’s Golden Apple Award (the highest award bestowed by the Association) for outstanding leadership in mentoring.  

To close his speech, Kessler said, “Like myself, many of you will discover that doing the next right thing not only shapes a fulfilling career but also defines a meaningful life... Together you have the power to change the world.”