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7 January 2019
A smile - the greatest reward

Published 7 January 2019

Thousands of matriculants around the country are preparing to enter tertiary institutions. The University of the Western Cape is set to welcomeapproximately 4300 first year students in 2019. The journey is not always easy but, as Micaela Pauls explains, hard work always pays off - she graduated with highest honours and received South African Dental Association awards for being a top student with excellent academic and clinical achievements.

“I had been accepted to study actuarial science at every university in the country, but people are my passion, and I was holding out for that acceptance letter that I had been praying for - the opportunity to solve problems and change lives that accompanies the title of ‘doctor’. Finally it arrived: I had been accepted to study dentistry at UWC, and I grabbed it with both hands.  

Every afternoon, I would sit at my desk and absorb the information that we had learnt that day, not allowing a single moment to pass in which I was not doing my best. Shortly into the first semester, I was awarded a full bursary from the Eastern Cape Department of Health. This motivated me even more and provided confirmation that everything was happening to God’s plan.

Being away from home was difficult, especially when I was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition called Ulcerative colitis in my first year. When your body becomes your enemy, the battle is very difficult to fight - and taking chemotherapeutic medication and spending a week in hospital every few months can take its toll. Despite the pain and discomfort, I always gave my patients the best treatment. They had their own pain, and  it was my job to alleviate it - with a caring and comforting smile on my face.

As the years went on, Cape Town became my new home. The workload became more demanding, and the stress took its toll on my health. Some days were more challenging than others, but if you cannot motivate yourself to get out of bed each morning, even when you are sick and weak, no one else will.

Added to this was the uncertainty of when I would receive meal vouchers from my bursary. Learning to budget when you cannot afford groceries becomes a challenge in itself. Writing semester tests every Tuesday and Saturday meant that I also needed to budget my time, and find time for God. Sundays were spent studying, so it was up to me to keep balanced with scripture reading each night, and including God in my daily routine.

Finally the day arrived when the hard work, blood (literally), sweat and tears of five years of studying culminated in being recognised as the top dentistry student - and also being awarded South African Dental Association medals for achievement in different disciplines and the gold medal for academic excellence. Finally I graduated with my degree in dental surgery summa cum laude. Bursting with pride, I was honoured to share my day and my success with my parents from Port Elizabeth.

With the excitement of graduation also comes the melancholy of a chapter closing and another one opening. The next page in my book will be written in Port Elizabeth as I start my career as a community service dentist in Kwazakhele. Though I am excited to dip my feet into the waters of the working world, I am sad to bid Cape Town a bittersweet farewell - but it will not be goodbye forever, as I have plans to return, study further and hopefully specialise.

William Arthur Ward said that a warm smile is the universal language of kindness. I believe it is the friendliest hello and the warmest goodbye. How blessed I am to be able to help people - young and old to be able to smile again.”