A new senior class gift tradition

In an unusual year, the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine’s Class of 2020 celebrates unity and perseverance with a new award
Yannis Koroneos 019

TUSDM Class President Yannis Koroneos says of classmate, Lisha Shakya, “Her perseverance and bravery inspired us to name the senior class gift in honor of her.”

For decades, the senior class gift has been a cherished tradition of the Tufts dental family, marking the milestone of graduation, the launching of careers, and the welcoming of a new class as Tufts dental alumni who will pass on the generosity that supported them to future classes.

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought profound changes for the Class of 2020. Fundraising for their class gift got off to a bright start with Giving Tuesday in December. With the cancellation of long-anticipated events like the “Toast to Graduates” and the senior gala, the class sought new ways to commemorate a graduation year unlike any in the school’s history. In April, as the pandemic continued to reshape all graduation plans, the class executive board decided that their gift would take the form of an award, the D2020 Senior Prize Endowed Fund (established during the COVID-19 pandemic, in honor of Lisha Shakya, D20). The gift will be bestowed each year at the senior award dinner to a student who has demonstrated outstanding service to the community and/or has shown determination in the face of adversity.

Like many classes before theirs, the Class of 2020 chose to dedicate their gift to a classmate who had shown courage and perseverance over adversity. In 2019, Lisha Shakya received a diagnosis of brain cancer that threatened her dreams of completing dental school with her class. After taking a leave of absence for treatment, she returned to school and graduated with her classmates in May. “Her perseverance and bravery inspired us to name the senior class gift in honor of her,” said Class President Yannis Koroneos. By fitting coincidence, Shakya happens to be the recipient of the of the D2019 Scholarship in honor of Brittany Colleran, D19, who is also a cancer survivor. In a recent interview with Tufts Now, Shakya was quick to note that the incredible support of her dental school community was an important part of her treatment, recovery, and return to training: “I’m so grateful for these people, and so honored and lucky, because I know I have friends for life. I have a home.”

D20 Class Officers Picture

As the COVID-19 pandemic continued to reshape all graduation plans, the D20 class executive board decided that their gift would take the form of an award, the D2020 Senior Prize Endowed Fund.

Students like Shakya and Colleran remind us all what courage looks like—and so do the members of the Class of 2020. Despite cancelled celebrations and many uncertainties related to the pandemic, they have focused on Tufts dental traditions that transcend those challenges, like friendship, collegiality, and generosity. “Right now,” said Koroneos, “we are all craving those personal connections that made the Tufts family so special.” Yet the COVID-19 pandemic has also given these classmates an opportunity to create a new tradition through their prize fund and to reflect on what it means to be compassionate caregivers during a public health crisis. “No other Tufts dental class in modern times has graduated under these circumstances. As members of the Class of 2020, we are going to be the innovators of our field, first on the scene, post-pandemic. As we graduate during this time, we will be the leaders who mark the beginning of a new era in patient care,” Koroneos said. The Class of 2020’s dedication to dental medicine, and to each other, is a legacy well worth celebrating.