UDM School of Dentistry graduate brings smiles, inspiration

By: Maria Allard, | Grosse Pointe Times | Published May 17, 2017

DETROIT/WOODS — Despite the obstacles Horacio Falcon endured while pursuing his dream of becoming a dentist, he never gave up.

He also hasn’t forgotten those individuals along the way who helped him achieve his goal.

On May 12, the Grosse Pointe Woods resident officially became Dr. Horacio Falcon when he graduated from University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry with high honors. The now-dentist was the guest speaker at the commencement ceremony held at Calihan Hall on the school’s McNichols Campus.

 Grosse Pointe Woods resident Horacio Falcon addresses his classmates during University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry commencement May 12. Falcon graduated with high honors.

Grosse Pointe Woods resident Horacio Falcon addresses his classmates during University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry commencement May 12. Falcon graduated with high honors.

Photo provided by University of Detroit Mercy

“Who would’ve thought that an immigrant from Venezuela, raised by a single parent on minimum wage, with all the odds against him, would be standing here today speaking to all of you in this arena,” he said.

Falcon, 33, was born in Valencia, Venezuela. Life was pretty good until patriarch Alfonso — once an airplane mechanic — lost his left arm in an accident.

When Falcon was 7, he and the family — dad; mother Maria Corina, who goes by the name Corina; older brother, also named Alfonso; and younger brother Marco — moved to the Santa Cruz area of California. The elder Alfonso needed medical care and a prosthetic arm after the accident.

“He did get a prosthetic arm, but it was mostly for show,” said Falcon, who speaks Spanish and English. “It wasn’t functional. It was mostly for looks.”

As the family settled into the Bay Area, the elder Falcon found jobs cleaning restaurants and cutting grass to earn a living. But “things weren’t the same anymore,” as the accident also affected Alfonso mentally.

“He had a lot of psychological trauma,” Falcon said. “He couldn’t do the things he once did. He was very frustrated with life. He wasn’t the same person.

“Things were difficult financially,” Falcon said, and eventually Corina went to work. “Things got worse. (My dad) went back to Venezuela, and my mom raised us.”

Corina got a job as a nanny working for a dentist, his dental hygienist wife and their three children. During his eighth-grade year in school, Falcon knew he wanted to be a dentist, especially after completing a yearlong report for school on the profession.

“I was always interested in the human body and how it works,” Falcon said.

Falcon’s interest grew when he had the opportunity to job shadow the dentist for whom Falcon’s mom nannied.

“They made us feel welcome,” Falcon said of the family. “They involved us in all of their activities.”

By the time the Venezuelan native graduated from middle school, he was working as a file clerk in the dentist’s office. At age 16, the serious student continued to pursue his ultimate goal and became a registered dental assistant. He attended high school from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day and worked after school, where he took X-rays, made impressions, made temporary crowns and assisted with procedures.

“I enjoyed treating patients. I felt like I was part of something. They treated me like I was part of the team,” the budding dentist said. “I felt like I was at home.”

He also was able to help support the family financially. On a sad note, he didn’t hear much from his father for a long time.

“I was very mad at my dad for leaving us,” Falcon said.

After graduating from high school, Falcon earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 2008 from San Francisco State University. He then applied for dentistry school in California, but was turned down.

“My grades weren’t what dental school wanted,” he said.

It was a bit of a setback, but Falcon rebounded, and from 2009 to 2011, the future dentist took post-bachelor classes at the University of California San Francisco.

“The purpose of the program was to train students so they got into dental school,” he said.

Falcon excelled in his studies. After bringing up his GPA, he was able to get into dental school.

‘We became friends again’

Falcon had become a husband at age 22 when he married his wife, Christela. The two share a common bond — she is a dental hygienist. When Falcon was accepted to University of Detroit Mercy, he didn’t hesitate, although that meant leaving the West Coast.

“It was like everything I worked for was starting to pay off,” he said. “There was something in me that kept pushing. I started seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Dental school was very rewarding. It was very intense and a hard curriculum.”

Another positive in his life was reconnecting with his father. Falcon even visited his dad twice when he traveled to South America.

“We became friends again,” Falcon said.

During Falcon’s first year in dental school, Christela’s brother passed away. Falcon’s world was shattered a year later when his father and grandmother were killed in a car crash in Venezuela. He thought of his late father at commencement last Friday.

“He always told me, ‘Be someone,’” Falcon said. “I did feel his presence when I was walking onstage.”

During his commencement speech — which occurred two days before Mother's Day — the graduate thanked the two women in his life who always support him: his wife and mother.

“They really inspire me,” said Falcon, who has dual citizenship from Venezuela and the U.S.

Falcon served as class president for two years. At the end of his third year at UDM, he received the Outstanding Student Leader Award from the American College of Dentists Michigan Section. For those who know him, they say it was well-deserved.

“A selfless individual, Horacio has been actively involved in community service and volunteerism throughout his education at UDM,” Assistant Dean for Clinic Administration Timothy Saunders, D.D.S., said in a prepared statement. “He is honest, dedicated, hardworking, focused and patient-centered, respected by faculty, staff, peers and most importantly, his patients. He is totally committed to this profession and the ethical standards by which it is to be practiced.”

When in dental school, Falcon — who feels right at home in metropolitan Detroit — worked on patients — some who didn’t have teeth.

“Everyone has a different story,” he said. “When I gave them a new set of dentures, they were so happy.”

Now that he has graduated, Falcon will begin seeing patients at Woods Dentistry in Harper Woods. He also has advice for those who fear going to the dentist.

“We’re here to help them so they can stay healthy overall,” he said. “Get to know your dentist. Get to know the team. Start slow with them. Really talk to them.”

And a tip for professionals working in the field: “You have to get to know your patients.”

Knowing the financial hardships his family faced, Falcon was one of the founders of the Hispanic Student Dental Association, which helps provide dental services in local Spanish-speaking areas of Detroit and surrounding cities.

The Falcons have two children, son Valentino, born in 2012, and daughter Viviana, born this past February.