Posted July 1, 2021

Dental student graduates in drag in viral video


Adding extra pizzazz to his dental school graduation, Jacob Dockery debuted his drag persona, Ruth Canal, to accept his diploma in a video that garnered more than 2 million views.

Dockery wearing pink sunglasses and striking makeup as Ruth Canal.
Photography By: 
Ryan S. Brandenberg
“A sense of humor is crucial. If you can’t connect with your patients or your team, nothing efficient is going to get done and the experience will never be more than a simple filling or new tooth,” said Dockery.

Empowered by his eagerness to embrace any experience and his willingness to break some unwritten rules, Jacob Dockery, DEN ’21, refused to let his graduation from the Kornberg School of Dentistry be anything typical. Once his name was called, his pulse began pounding with each careful step in his high-heeled shoes. His wig threatened to tangle in the warm summer air and his flawless makeup refused to be sweated off as Dockery’s drag persona, Ruth Canal, came into the public eye for the first time, to walk across the graduation stage.

With encouragement from his peers and a hint of a devil-may-care attitude, Dockery created a TikTok account and uploaded the now viral video from his graduation. He ignored social media overnight and the next day, dozens of people reached out to him about strangers sharing the video, which has been viewed more than 2 million times.

Articles popped up across the internet as interest continued to climb. Everywhere Dockery goes, he says somebody recognizes him. He had a recent job interview for a General Dentist position where he met the CEO’s daughter, who started gushing to him about his video.

“Everything felt like it was happening about me, but without me, and I loved it,” said Dockery.

An artist at heart, Dockery seriously considered attending art school, only to realize that he didn’t want to mix stress and expectations into his passion. He decided instead to listen to his grandma and turned toward biochemistry. Along the way, he discovered that dentistry had the right combination of art and science to fulfill his dreams.

“With dentistry, you’re an artist, an engineer and a scientist all at the same time,” Dockery said. “All the work you do in your head, you eventually have to do through your hands, and of course you have to make it aesthetically pleasing.”

Dockery as Ruth Canal with heart-shaped sunglasses, a bandana and red lips.

 “I’m not a serious person whatsoever,” said Dockery. “My work as a dentist is serious, but I, myself, am not serious.”  (Photo by Ryan S. Brandenberg)

Drag has always held Dockery’s interest, and he seriously considered entering the drag scene for years. When the pandemic hit, he seized it as an opportunity to pursue his dreams. With everything shut down and an unexpected abundance of free time, he began practicing makeup and developing a persona on his own.

He described the pandemic as an opportunity to step outside of his routine and to reexamine the things that mattered to him most. With the support of his family, and with his newfound point of view, he gained the confidence he needed.

“It can be too easy to get stuck in the mindset of ‘I need to study for five hours,’” he said. “But if I have fun for three hours, then my remaining two hours will be super efficient.”

Dockery recommended that nobody take life too seriously. He said that laughter is what unites people, and that the best thing you can do for yourself is seize every opportunity for a new experience. “Even if it’s a disaster, at least it’s a story you can tell another time,” he said. 

Dockery plans to settle into his career as a dentist before he sets aside time to pursue drag again. He’s in the process of applying for jobs, moving apartments, buying a car and paying off his loans. Once he has everything settled, he fully intends to enter the realm of drag art, with a “see what happens” attitude.

For now, his TikTok video continues to accrue viewers as word of his unforgettable graduation spreads.

“Don’t be afraid to go out there and break the rules that make no sense to you,” said Dockery. “If you live your life according to the expectations you put upon yourself, you’ll never learn what you love, what you hate, and what works for you.”

—Rayna Lewis