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Retired dentist receives UNC degree after 48-year wait

On Friday, November 15, the College of Arts and Sciences presented Gene Allen Holland a long-awaited degree. Gene Holland attended UNC from 1962 to 1965 and continued his education at the School of Dentistry at UNC. He received his Doctor of Dental Surgery and then joined the faculty in the school in 1968 until retiring in 1997. After requesting to receive his undergraduate degree a couple years into dentistry school, the chancellor at the time did not carry out the request, deeming it unnecessary since he was already into his D.D.S. After fifty years, he finally was awarded his undergraduate diploma, just in time for his graduating class' fifty year reunion!
On Friday, November 15, the College of Arts and Sciences presented Gene Allen Holland a long-awaited degree. Gene Holland attended UNC from 1962 to 1965 and continued his education at the School of Dentistry at UNC. He received his Doctor of Dental Surgery and then joined the faculty in the school in 1968 until retiring in 1997. After requesting to receive his undergraduate degree a couple years into dentistry school, the chancellor at the time did not carry out the request, deeming it unnecessary since he was already into his D.D.S. After fifty years, he finally was awarded his undergraduate diploma, just in time for his graduating class' fifty year reunion!

Gene Holland stood in front of the Old Well holding back tears Friday as he received his 1965 undergraduate degree.

Holland, a retired dentist who formerly taught at the UNC School of Dentistry, earned a bachelor’s degree in dentistry from UNC nearly 50 years ago but finally was awarded it last week.

Due to an administrative error, Holland did not receive his undergraduate degree with the rest of the class of 1965, despite continuing his graduate school education at UNC’s School of Dentistry.

Holland, who received a prestigious teaching award from the dentistry school while on faculty at UNC, became emotional when he saw the undergraduate degree that he earned 48 years ago.

“I would say something, but I’m not very good at holding in emotions,” Holland said.

Bobbi Owen, senior associate dean for undergraduate education, presented the degree to him in a small ceremony attended by Holland’s friends and family in front of the campus’s most iconic landmark.

“It’s a great honor to be able stand here today and recognize your lifetime of accomplishments by going back to the past and remembering your undergraduate career here at Carolina and the College of Arts and Sciences,” Owen said. “So it is my privilege on the behalf of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to award you a bachelor’s degree of sciences in dentistry retroactive to May 1965.”

Holland’s son, a UNC alumnus who is also named Gene Holland, was in attendance and said his father had been waiting for that moment for a long time.

When Holland attended the University in the 1960s, students could complete three years as an undergraduate and then go to medical or dental school.

Students could request an undergraduate degree after their first year of graduate school, but Holland chose to request it after completion of dental school.

Owen said in an email that his request was not taken seriously by then-Chancellor J. Carlyle Sitterson after Sitterson saw that Holland had already received a doctorate from the school of dentistry.

Holland did not give up on receiving his undergraduate degree. He contacted the College of Arts and Sciences and was directed to Owen, who has dealt with similar situations before.

“We do this occasionally,” Owen said. “I have given bachelors’ of sciences in medicine degrees from the same era, but this is the first time I have given a bachelor’s of sciences in dentistry.”

Holland said once he was in contact with Owen, his worries about receiving his degree disappeared.

“I knew from the first time I spoke with her that she was someone I could trust, someone who would go to bat for me,” Holland said. “She would do everything she could to make this happen for me.”

Holland has had a long career as a dentist and as a professor — and now, for the first time in his life, he can officially claim to be an alumnus of the UNC College of Arts and Sciences.

“It just completes my educational achievements, something I knew I earned and deserved,” Holland said. “It just feels good to know I have both my degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.”

university@dailytarheel.com

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