by Melissa Lacas
When fourth-year College of Dental Medicine
(CDM) student Dan Pennella stopped by the college’s academic affair’s
office several weeks ago, Amy Brubaker asked how his mother was doing.
Dr. John Sanders, right, presents Dr. Dan Pennella with a mock diploma.
Pennella’s mother had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and struggled
to overcome the disease in hopes that she could watch her son
graduate. When Brubaker saw the expression on Pennella’s face and his
revelation that his mother would not be able to make it to his
graduation, she knew she had to help. She decided to take pictures of
Pennella dressed in his graduation cap and gown so that his mother
could watch her dream of seeing her son graduate from dental school.
She contacted Anne Hantske, assistant to the dean and CDM Dean John J.
Sanders, DDS, who were more than eager to help. While Sanders was
putting on his commencement regalia to take pictures with Panella
receiving his “diploma,” Brubaker and Pennella met in front of the
dental school entrance and then went to St. Luke’s Chapel, one of
Pennella’s mother’s favorite locations on campus. As Brubaker was
taking pictures, MUSC President Ray Greenberg, M.D., Ph.D., happened to
be heading back to his office and curiously approached Pennella in his
Once Greenberg talked to Pennella about his mother, he gladly joined in
the photo shoot. Brubaker sent the images to Anne Thompson in digital
imaging, who edited the photographs. After the photographs were
complete, Greenberg decided that more needed to be done.
Greenberg contacted Sanders and Damon Amella, who creates production
and video for the university. When Amella heard Pennella’s story, he
collected all of the photos and put them on a video slide show. Tariq
Javed, DMD, and James Knight, DDS, two of Pennella’s professors, joined
several friends and classmates to comment on Pennella’s accomplishments
for his graduation video. Amella put the video together, even adding
mother and son's favorite song that would remind her of him, and gave
it to him right before his flight to Texas to see his mother for the
Pennella’s mother passed away shortly afterwards, but not before she
happily and proudly watched the graduation video of her son’s
“Nobody stopped to even think about what they were doing,” Brubaker
said. “It was second nature for all of these people to help Dan and his
Friday, May 15, 2009