How Sweet the Fruit

Alex Frisbie, DMD

I had a very quiet clinical instructor in dental school. He didn’t say much when you asked him questions, and even less if you didn’t. Students weren’t sure if he was shy or uninterested or had just wholly given up on the student body (this was the working hypothesis).
One day in the spring of our fourth year, we had a quick meeting about getting our graduation requirements satisfied and the critical paperwork we had better have organized if we want a hope of getting out of here in May. A few different instructors were taking turns reading off checklists and chastising the more unprepared dental students. The meeting was very casual with neither students or instructors paying much attention.

Just as we were ready to leave for clinic, the quiet professor stepped forward. Very unlike him. Everyone stopped talking. He launched into a surprisingly emotional sermon about us growing as students and moving on to serve the community and concluded by saying, “I’ll end with a quote from Cato, who reminded us that ‘the roots of study are bitter, but how sweet the fruit.’”*

Nice message, but it was far more than we had ever heard from him and it just seemed so over the top for the moment. More appropriate for a theater than a hallway huddle about grades. Most of us stared at him blankly. A few of us laughed.

I’m embarrassed now to admit I was among those who laughed.

Since then, I’ve grown up a lot. I think about this quote often and it seems truer every year. At the time, I thought my professor was talking only about academic study. Now I think he (and perhaps Cato?) was referencing not just study but learning. I am learning how to be a better clinician, a better employer, a better father, a better husband. I try to put others first. I try to do the right thing.

None of these are easy; this has been the most challenging year of my life and there isn’t a close second. Despite, or maybe because of, the challenge, I feel more fulfilled than I ever have been. Dental school was hard. So is life. The hard is what makes it all worth it.


*A quick Google search tells me there isn’t a consensus about who actually said this; the quote is also frequently credited to Aristotle as well as several other Stoics.

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