Expression of Gratitude: A New, Inclusive Tradition

Chloe Hall & Jorge Luis De Avila, MS1s

At Pritzker, first-year students start their medical school journey by taking a deep-dive into human anatomy during an intensive eleven-week course. After the class concludes, we have an opportunity to come together with our peers and faculty for the Service of Gratitude, which recognizes the donors whose gifts make our anatomy experience possible. The service is an opportunity to celebrate, to reflect, and most importantly, to give thanks. The event includes performances and readings by the MS1s, as well as a candle-lighting service in memory of the donors.

This year, on a chilly early November evening, students danced, sang, played music, and read poems and reflections about their experiences in anatomy under the stained-glass windows of Bond Chapel on the University of Chicago campus. MS1 Jennifer Deng shared, “As I watched, I thought about our donors, and imagined them singing and laughing with their own families. I thought about the beautiful lives they each must have lived before their journeys ended with us.”

MS1 Aaditi Naik shared with us her experience on performing a dance at the service: “During anatomy lab… I often reflected on the Hindu belief that creation, preservation, and destruction are all equally vital to existence. In other words, there is no life without death. I wanted to share this perspective during the Service of Gratitude, so I chose to perform a Bharatanatyam piece about Lord Shiva, who is the destroyer… I was astounded by the love and support I received from my classmates and that they were able to connect to the message of the piece regardless of language barriers.”

Jennifer, Aaditi and 24 other classmates performed during the Service of Gratitude to give thanks to the donors. However, a common concern the first-year class and previous classes have shared was that not everyone felt like they were able to directly contribute to the service. A tradition set by a previous class mitigated this concern by inviting students to bake for the service, and this year over 20 students baked for the reception.

Moreover, to facilitate an even more inclusive and participatory service, this year’s planning committee spearheaded the development of what we hope will become a new tradition: The construction of an ofrenda, or altar, recognizing the donors. Given that our Service of Gratitude falls around Day of the Dead, a celebration of the deceased rooted in Aztec tradition, the first-year class worked together to create a community ofrenda informed by Day of the Dead traditions. A Pritzker Wellness Grant funded an evening in which M1s were invited to decorate colorful sugar skulls (representing the donors) and papel picado (festive tissue paper banners) for the altar. The ofrenda was set up at the reception and included a beautiful portrait painted by MS1 Tony Da Lomba, as well as a jar overflowing with words of gratitude and reflection written by the class, intended to only be read by the spirits of the donors.

The idea of the community ofrenda was to ensure that every member of the first-year class had the opportunity to directly contribute to this years’ Service of Gratitude, regardless of their ability to express their gratitude through the medium of performance.