The Gift that Keeps on Giving: Boston University Medical Campus Anatomy Donor Memorial Service Returns as an Annual End-of-Year Tribute

In the service’s opening remarks, Julia Dudek DMD 27 and Giulio Cataldo CAMED 24 27, the 2024 memorial student co-chairs, said the memorial service is the students’ way to pay their respects. They hope their efforts provide a sense of closure to the donor’s loved ones. (Photo Credit: Dan Bomba, GSDM)

A flower has everlasting beauty—from a seedling emerging from the ground to a dried pressing on a bookcase—just as a person who donates their body to Boston University for education and research purposes gives immeas­urable learning opportunities to dental and medical students alike.

This floral connection was the inspiration for the theme of the 2024 Boston University Medical Campus (BUMC) Anatomy Donor Memorial Service, “Garden of Gratitude,” which took place on Friday, May 3, in Hiebert Lounge. This was the first BUMC anatomy donor memorial service since 2019.

Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine (GSDM) and Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine (Chobanian & Avedisian SOM) students collaborated to organize a one-hour, non-denominational anatomy donor memorial service to honor this year’s anatomy donors and their loved ones as part of their end of the academic year. For students at both schools, body dissection is a critical part of their anatomy education, making the memorial service an emotional rite of passage.

In the service’s opening remarks, Julia Dudek DMD 27 and Giulio Cataldo CAMED 24 27, the 2024 memorial student co-chairs, said the memorial service is the students’ way to pay their respects. They hope their efforts provide a sense of closure to the donor’s loved ones.

“We extend our deepest appreciation to all the families that are present today,” Dudek said. “Your presence honors us greatly and this event would not hold the same significance without you.”

One of the memorial’s organizers, Robert Bouchie Questrom 92, laboratory manager and director of anatomical gift program, echoed Dudek’s and Cataldo’s thoughts on closure in his remarks, saying the memorial service is the culmination of following through on someone’s selfless wish of giving themselves to education.

For him, this year’s memorial service was more personal than any other year. Bouchie was attending the service both as organizer and loved one, as his father was one of the anatomy donors during the 2023-2024 academic year. He said he knew he carried through his father’s wishes and knows he played a monumental role in helping the donors do so as well.

“I’ve always spoken the words ‘I will care for your loved one as if they’re a member of my own family,’” Bouchie said. “I can assure you of one thing now that I can speak those words, it’s an actual fact. Your loved ones were cared for as if they were members of my own family.”

Prior to the start of the service, Dudek said she had difficulty separating emotions from science when she started her anatomy labs. She showed her respect to the donors every day in lab but, when she learned about the anatomy donor memorial service, she knew she had to step forward as the GSDM chairperson. She hoped this memorial service was a way to show respect one more time.

“I had a hard time wrapping my head around how selfless someone can be to [donate their body to Boston University], because they’re not only giving back to a student, they’re giving back to their community,” Dudek said. “I’m able to see real life structures, and I get to experience, and I get to feel, and I get to see with my own eyes, the human body and give it the respect and knowledge that it deserves that I wouldn’t be able to get from a textbook or a model.”

Caroline Bauchiero CAMED 23 27, Blair Boyles DMD 27, Gabriela Comptdaer CAS 20 CAMED 22 27, Claudette Elkhoury DMD 27, Julia Grace Wheelock 20, Sophie Gray CAMED 27, Rohini Kambhampati CAMED 22 27, SPH 22, Emily Kang DMD 27, Shruti Misra CAMED 27, Kendrick Tak CAS 23 CAMED 27, and Sienna Wang CAS 24 shared Dudek’s passion to share their respects, serving as subcommittee members and were instrumental to the memorial service planning.

As the Speakers and Entertainment Committee, Kang and Elkhoury created the memorial service’s program, which included finding the keynote speaker, selecting students to perform sung poetry and instrumental pieces, and solidifying all day-of coordination.

In this role, Kang said it was her goal is to make sure the program best represented how much the students appreciate and respect the sacrifices the donors made for their education.

“Their donation can impact so many people that extends beyond their life,” Kang said. “It’s impacting the lives of students, the people that they are impacting as future healthcare professionals, and future educators. It’s just a good way to practice gratitude and be mindful of how someone’s decision can make such a great impact on so many other people.”

Kang and Elkhoury selected Dr. Monica Pessina, anatomy and neurobiology clinical associate professor, to give this year’s keynote address. Pessina teaches gross anatomy and microscopic anatomy at GSDM and Chobanian & Avedisian SOM, where she serves in various roles including course director, section leader, lecturer, and laboratory instructor.

In her keynote address, Pessina used the well-known children’s book “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein to illustrate six extraordinary gifts given to the students by these donors. Like the Giving Tree, Pessina said the donors gave students unconditional love, imagination, perseverance, stable foundation, opportunity, and a place to rest and reflect.

“The story in the book and the story of our donors is about selfless giving, and it is truly a great story,” Pessina said. “I think that the efforts of the ceremony today attest to the fact that in our version of the story, there is extreme gratitude…The final line of the book reads ‘and the Tree was happy.’ If the donors can see us today gathering in their honor and appreciating their many gifts, I would like to think that they are happy too.”

Prior to the service, Bouchie said he was pleased that the anatomy memorial services resumed this year. He said his first day at Boston University – September 11, 2001 – was one of the worst days in history and heavily influenced the sense of gratitude he wanted to showcase in his work.

His predecessor informed him the anatomy lab did a moment of silence to honor the donors and occasionally wrote letters to be included with the donors when they were sent to be cremated at the end of the academic year. Bouchie believed this was not enough to properly respect the donors and their loved ones.

Drawing from his previous work experience as the pathology/autopsy laboratory director at Boston Children’s Hospital and a Massachusetts-based funeral director, Bouchie had a vision for a formal non-denominational anatomy donor memorial service.

Bouchie worked closely with the memorial’s other faculty organizer, Lee Farris, director of the forensic anthropology and anatomical gift program and assistant anatomical gift coordinator, to make the memorial services an integral part of the anatomy courses. Together, Bouchie and Farris believe it’s a great learning experience to allow the students to organize the memorial students. They provide guidance when needed, but the students are left to their own imagination to develop a program that speaks to their experiences.

“The students are 100 percent the driving force behind the service,” Bouchie said. “I use an analogy on the first day that we meet for the meeting of organization of the memorial service, and I liken it to a ship being fully provided with provisions.”

Despite its importance, the memorial service is not required for all GSDM and Chobanian & Avedisian SOM first year students. While it is open to anyone, Farris said it is better to have only the students who want to take the time and energy to put their full heart into it. Simply put, one can’t mandate sincerity.

“All those who want to be involved [can] come. We’ve always had a great showing of dental students come and want to be part of it,” Lee said. “Having a [chairperson] from each school is really helpful and makes things go much smoother… It’s really the students who want to make this a priority and giving them their time to plan.”

Throughout the service, members of both the GSDM and Chobanian & Avedisian SOM communities presented musical performances or poetry readings. From GSDM, Hayoung Song DMD 27 and Israel Perez DMD 27 played a violin and flute piece entitled “Thais Medication,” Khaled Ibrahim DMD 27 sang “You are the Reason,” and Jonathan Malyon DMD 27 sang/played the guitar to a song he wrote himself called “Goodbye.”

At the close of the service, all the GSDM and Chobanian & Avedisian SOM student participants led a candle lighting ceremony, reading the names of all the donors and pausing for a culminative moment of silence. Cataldo gave one last thank you to the loved ones and presented them with their own gift: a paper heart with wildflower seeds.

“Your family members gave such a profound gift to each and every one of us, knowing that the reverberations of that gift would extend into a world that they would no longer be a part of. I ask that all of us learn from their generosity and endeavor to make the world a better place, even when we may not see a personal benefit from the generosity we share with our neighbor,” Cataldo said. “Today’s been about celebrating not only the gifts from our donors, but about celebrating the gift of life itself.”


By Rachel Grace Philipson