Monica "mOe" Anderson brings wisdom of multiple careers to commencement address

Monica Anderson speaks behind a podium in regalia

Monica Anderson, DDS ’88, has maintained many careers since her graduation from the School of Dentistry 35 years ago. She brought all those experiences with her to provide wisdom and guidance as the 2023 commencement speaker. 

Known professionally as Dr. mOe, Anderson works full-time with DentaQuest Sun Life as a consultant and benefits administrator. She’s served as a practicing dentist. She speaks on topics including life balance, women’s empowerment, relationships and communication. Staying loyal to her first love, Anderson has written hundreds of articles and published eight books, fiction and nonfiction. But most importantly, she says, has been her role as a mother to two sons. 

Anderson raises hand and smiles at commencement

Anderson knew from a young age that she wanted to do big things. “I was always achievement-oriented, always thinking ahead,” she recalled. So when she met Marie Holliday, DMD, at age fourteen, she was inspired. Holiday returned to Anderson’s hometown and opened her own dental practice. “I had never seen a female doctor of any kind before that, let alone a Black woman,” Anderson said. “She came into our community and opened her own practice, and I was enthralled. I realized that dentistry is the perfect combination of art and sciences and people and relationships.” 

Anderson saw Holiday, now a dear friend, as a role model, and headed off to the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry. Dental school was not without its challenges—Anderson was one of few women and the only Black student at the school. Classes were challenging and life was busy—especially balancing her pregnancy with her oldest son while in her third year of school. 

Through the challenges, though, Anderson found a great community in her classmates. “Everyone knew my son,” she said. “He became like our little class mascot, my classmates babysat when I needed, they were very supportive.” Reflecting on “one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” Anderson recalled the support she received from classmates through a difficult pregnancy—including helping her out when she fell asleep in class. “My classmates were phenomenal,” she said. 

Anderson speaks at commencement

Dental school launched Anderson to into her careers, which she balances with grace and intention. Throughout her roles, Anderson has stayed true to herself by dedicating herself fully to each task, and doing what she loves. The ability she has to balance multiple roles has not always been seen as a strength—but she believes it makes her better. 

“The people I see with the most peace and joy have multiple streams of happiness,” she said. “When you put all your eggs in one basket—whether it’s your financial portfolio, your career, or your hobbies—you’re much more likely to be devastated if something happens.” 

That’s the main message she hopes graduates took from her commencement speech: be who you are, find your passion, and don’t get stuck in a rut. “You do the very best when you devote yourself fully to whatever endeavor you’re with,” she continued. “I give whatever I’m doing my all, but I don’t just stay in one lane.” 

Anderson also stressed the importance of humility and showing others respect and value. 

“It is not true that you are what you eat, or what you own,” she said during the speech. “Rather, you are what you do. You can blindly follow others, or make new paths where highways never ran…The choice is yours. And knowing what I do about everything it took for you to be here today, I sincerely believe you’ll not only make the right choices. I believe you’ll make history.”

Anderson hopes graduates—and those who read her pieces and view her talks—see her as an example of what is possible. From her own experiences with racism in dental school, which she explored in her TedX talk, “What Dentistry Teaches Us About Curbing Racism,” to being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor in 2012, Anderson has not had an easy life. But she is adamant that those challenges do not keep her from being all she can be. 

“Everyone has struggles and challenges, but what keeps me going is the ability to help other people,” she said. “When you look at me, you’re looking at someone with a serious health condition. I’m not looking for pity, but I want you to know that whatever you’re facing, you can go on. You can still care about other people, get the right people around you, find something you believe in and go for it.”