Attending 40+ commencements is a family matter for Wolff

Larry Wolff headshot

Larry Wolff, MS, PhD, DDS ’78, professor of periodontology, has been part of the University of Minnesota for over four decades–and he’s spent that time supporting learners from their first day to the day they walk across the stage at graduation.

Wolff grew up with his nine siblings in southern Minnesota, raised by a father with an eighth grade education and a mother with a tenth grade education.

“Despite their limited education, or maybe even because of it, my parents valued education very much for their children,” reflected Wolff. He received his Bachelor of Science before pursuing a PhD in microbiology at Northwestern University in Chicago. An advisor who was a microbiologist and dentist suggested Wolff pursue dentistry, which led him to the School of Dentistry, where he received his DDS in 1978 before specializing in periodontics in New York.

When he was invited to return to the School of Dentistry as a faculty member in 1980, it was an easy yes. “I’m a Minnesotan through and through, and there was no better opportunity,” he recalled.

Since then, Wolff has loved every moment. “Students learn from me, but I learn from them, too,” he said. “I’ve gotten positive feedback in teaching students and mentoring them in research and that’s motivated me.”

One of Wolff’s favorite traditions in his 44 years at the School of Dentistry has been attending commencement ceremonies. Though he’s missed a few, he has made it his goal to attend any year he can.

Wolff’s love for attending commencement dates back to his roots in Janesville, Minnesota, where graduations were a major celebration for family members. “I consider the students I’m teaching and mentoring to be my children, so I want to be there to celebrate them,” he said. “As faculty, we work with students to train them, giving them knowledge in whatever career they’ll pursue. We are demonstrating our respect for the students and our pride for their accomplishments when we support them at commencements. I work with all the groups of students, and it’s an honor to celebrate with them.”

While he’ll have to miss this year’s ceremony, Wolff wants the Class of 2024 to know how proud he is of them and all they’ve accomplished.

“To the students that are graduating, you have a privilege now with the knowledge you gained and the clinical skills that you’ve earned, to go out and practice dentistry and provide care to patients,” he said. “This is a huge responsibility. Keep learning as you go throughout your career, keep up on your skills. We wish you success as you now begin this important and exciting time. You have a great career ahead of you.”