Stanford School of Medicine’s Remembrance Project
In 2021, a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, Stanford School of Medicine looked to honor its community’s experience through a two-part, creative art initiative, “Apart-Together COVID-19 Remembrance.” This “all hands on deck” effort created space for healing and earned the California, U.S., university a Circle of Excellence Award.
Jacqueline Genovese, Executive Director of the Medical Humanities and Arts Program, watched the death toll rise through the beginning of the pandemic and knew Stanford needed to do something to acknowledge this moment.
“Once the numbers start to get big you forget the people behind the numbers—the individuals,” she says.
She and her colleagues formed a cross-campus committee and collaborated with the university, medical school, and hospitals to create a project with the goal of “[helping] people understand it’s okay to take time to grieve,” she says.
This committee included Lauren Toomer, an artist and clinical anatomy and art/art history lecturer who, inspired by the tradition of giving flowers to honor a loss, came up with the idea for flowers to be a central part of the remembrance. The first part of the project brought together more than 2,000 students, employees, patients, and volunteers to paint wooden petals to represent their experiences during the pandemic.
These painting sessions became places for members of Stanford Medicine and university communities to heal and hold on to their humanity, Genovese explains.
“There hadn’t been a place for people to share their stories because they were busy taking care of everybody, particularly our frontline colleagues,” says Genovese. The project allowed colleagues to connect across disciplines and support each other in expressing what they were going through.
The petals were then assembled into more than 600 flowers to represent the (at the time) more than 600,000 lives lost to COVID in the U.S., before being “planted” in the university’s arboretum in front of the Angel of Grief statue. Alongside the flowers, an eight-foot-tall, tree-like sculpture was built with three wood bases to represent the three collaborators (the university, medical school, and hospitals) on the project.
The sculpture also represented unity and resilience in the intertwining metal branches extending from the bases; the wooden medallions they were capped with represented stability and growth.
“The three metal pieces kind of leaned on each other to show that we leaned on each other … the sculpture and flowers represented a great deal of emotion, grief, loss, and strength,” says Genovese.
The second part of the project was a COVID Memorial Soundwalk, which featured Stanford students and faculty performing narration and music. Toomer describes the experience as being “about community engagement and joining together to create, reflect, and work towards healing.”
The university’s efforts resulted in a Grand Gold COE Award, a unanimous decision from the panel. Judges recognized the Apart-Together Remembrance for its creativity and accessibility, praising the university for the “beautiful and meaningful tribute.” Stanford’s initiative is an inspirational look at higher education’s ability to impact and engage their communities, especially when they need it the most.
About the author(s)
Hannah Ratzer is Editorial Specialist at CASE.
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Engaging donors, alumni, and campus communities: that’s what the 2022 Circle of Excellence Awards winners did exceptionally well. In this issue of Currents, explore award-winning projects that connected with audiences in novel, compelling, meaningful ways.