The College of Southern Maryland’s 58 nursing candidates crossed the finish line when they attended their recognition and pinning ceremony on June 5.
Like most of their final months together this semester — the students gathered in a virtual environment — this time to share the time-honored tradition that included speeches, showing off their decorated caps and the pinning.
The virtual ceremony was the last in a remarkable series of changes the nurses faced as they pivoted to learn about and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many of the graduates are among the 20% of the college’s 270 nursing students who have also been volunteering since April as clinical externs or for the Maryland Medical Reserve Corps to support acute care staffing needs across the state in the fight against the virus.
Resiliency during the pandemic and compassionate service were common themes during the ceremony.
Mistress of Ceremonies Health Sciences Division Chair Laura Polk began the ceremony sitting before a background that displayed items from the Florence Nightingale Museum in London, England.
“It feels like March 15 was five years ago,” Polk said in a news release, acknowledging the date students went home to begin remote learning. “Who knew that when 2020 was named the ‘Year of the Nurse’ in honor of the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth, that the nursing profession would so unexpectedly be brought to the forefront through a global pandemic. And who could have ever predicted that as a result, your nursing program would end in such an unusual way.”
Polk shared that she studied resilience as it was the focus of her doctoral work, and she even developed a tool to measure it.
“I can tell you honestly that I’ve never known a group of people who better exemplify this trait,” she said. “The fortitude you have displayed over the past two and a half months has been absolutely extraordinary. Your flexibility, grit, and single-minded purposefulness will serve you well as you enter an extraordinary profession during this historic time. But so will the grace you’ve shown each other.”
Polk added the nurse’s strengths will serve them well.
“The experience of lifting each other up through your struggles to balance school, work, home, unemployment, personal illness, family illness, and even family loss will empower you in your role as a nurse,” she said. “Based on your resilience the past several months, I have no doubt that CSM has prepared you well, and that you will excel in your new role.”
College of Southern Maryland Associate Professor of Nursing Lisa Gonzalez said the graduates are a special group.
“If you are willing to advocate and care for your patients as passionately as I have seen you fight for credits and points back on the test, then we can all rest assured, the future of healthcare is in really good hands,” said said.
Gonzalez also acknowledged the support group the nurses had behind them.
“I want to recognize the family and friends of the graduates who are joining us today,” she said. “We know the last few months have not been easy. You probably hadn’t seen much of your nursing graduate for almost two years, and then all of a sudden, in March, they were home with you full time still going to class and clinical, just doing it all through hours and hours and hours of Zoom.”
She also thanked the graduates and all of the nurses who have been on the front lines of pandemic and asked for a moment of silence for those who “gave their lives for the profession they loved in order to provide the best care possible.”
Each of the graduates also received a nursing pin, which is a treasured symbol. The pinning ceremony dates back to the 1860s when Florence Nightingale was awarded the Red Cross of St. George in recognition for her tireless service to the injured during the Crimean War. Nightingale, in turn, presented a medal of excellence to her brightest graduates, and by 1916, the practice of pinning new graduates was standard throughout the United States.
“It was decades ago when CSM’s first pin was designed by the first registered nursing class to ever graduate from the college in 1979,” said Hill, who added the current pin was custom designed by her.
An important profession
College of Southern Maryland nursing alumna and registered nurse Amber Hutchins, who served as keynote speaker, added that “nursing ranked higher than physicians, dentists and pharmacists.”
“What does that say to you?” Hutchins asked. “What it says to me, as a registered nurse, is that I have the ability to engage and escort people through very difficult times in their lives. But this honor comes with some work. We have to continue to work together to maintain that respect from the community and from our peers.”
Hutchins then reflected on what the COVID-19 pandemic has meant to this class.
“What do nurses do when everyone is mandated to be hunkered down at home for fear of this new reality?” she asked. “They get up, put on their scrubs, comfortable nursing shoes and get to work just like every other day,” she said. “Were we scared? Yes. We still are. Scared for the health of these patients, with an ever-present internal dialogue of ‘Am I going to get sick? Will I take this home to my loved ones?’”
Hutchins pointed out how nurses found ways to employ other avenues of care to help during the pandemic.
“[We were] scraping at every resource to ensure patients had what they needed,” she added, including telemedicine, phone calls, care management, social work, navigating community resources, and perhaps most importantly, community education. “Because that is what nurses do. They are compassionate, impactful, resourceful and innovative. And you, all of you, are now part of that community.”
Student speaker Shari Templeman, 33 of Waldorf, told her classmates the world is now a different place.
“The world we are entering is not the same as when we began our journey, the world needs nurses even more,” said Templeman, who was the recipient of the “Achievement in Nursing” award.
“The world is facing new diseases and viruses. It needs skill and care,” she said. “The world needs a nurse. The world is angry and hurt. It needs compassion and empathy. The world needs a nurse. The world is exposing disparities that exist even today. It needs advocacy. The world needs a nurse. The world needs you.”
Templeman, who worked as a stay-at-home mom for nine years before she realized she wanted to become a nurse, said her two years at CSM were “incredible.”
A great reputation
“I knew the nursing program was going to be difficult, but CSM had a great reputation, and my friends who went through the nursing program had nothing but great things to say about it,” she said. “My first semester in nursing school was such a welcoming experience. And today, I would tell you that my classmates are some of the most hard-working and compassionate and resilient people I have ever met. We have been through so much together. The flexibility that everyone displayed through this pandemic was amazing. We were met with nothing but compassion and grace.”
Templeman explained that her studies were made harder when the statewide stay-at-home mandate was enacted because she suddenly had to share her quiet time with her children and husband.
“It was incredibly difficult to juggle adding six more hours of nursing classes in Zoom, and helping my children with their Zoom [classes],” said Templeman, who was used to taking online classes and was also taking classes at Frostburg State University. “Plus, my husband was teleworking. It was definitely a time for extending grace to everyone. Our instructors were amazing.”
Abena Boatemaa Okyere Acheampong graduated with high honors and earned an Academic Achievement in Nursing award for maintaining the highest grade point average in her class.
She earned the distinction while working as a certified nursing assistant at MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center, falling ill to COVID-19 and being quarantined in her parents’ Brandywine home.
Her journey to achieving her nursing degree has taken time and many turns.
Acheampong, who moved to the United States from West Africa in 2008, was working at MedStar in the emergency room when she realized she wanted to make patient care her lifetime career.
“After talking to numerous nurses, I knew that CSM was where I wanted to attend, and I am so glad I did,” she said. “Everything about CSM was more than I expected,” she said. “From the people who work in the library to people who work the book store – to the amazing people in financial aid; everyone was so supportive. It is a community I am proud to be a part of, and it feels like a second home to me.”
Acheampong is back at work and waiting for the call to help in the battle against the coronavirus as a volunteer with the Maryland Medical Reserve Corps.
“CSM has given me so much opportunity,” she said. “If I was back in Ghana, I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish the things I am accomplishing now. The best way I can give back to this country is to serve it as a nurse.”
CSM Clinical Simulation coordinator Linda Goodman wrapped up the ceremony with a quote from the 2018 book “Unlocking the Secret of Success” by Ayush Sharma.
“He says ‘take responsibly for your life, and you will take control of your life,’” Goodman said. “Accept the challenge required to get you where you want to be. Successful people don’t make excuses or blame others. They just focus on what they can do and what they have.”
Goodman told the graduates to push forward and to not get down.
“Accept and find happiness in your accomplishment, you worked hard for this moment, and you deserve it,” she said. “In this time of uncertainty and change, your faculty, family and friends will applaud and admire your commitment and fortitude to carry the lamp of compassion, caring, community, and trust onward.”
The following are the College of Southern Maryland students who graduated with associate degrees in nursing:
Dorothy Almony, Sarah Archer, Brooke Baggerly, Shanielle Bundy, Melissa Cavin, Camille Chambers, Karley Corpe, Sarah Crane, Roselyn Custodio, Gabrielle Deen, Blair Dowdell, Tanisha Dudley, Heather Edelen, Trisha Enesperos, Melinda Farrell, Kimberley Gonsalves, Kathryn Goss, Alyssa Gray, Adrian Guerrero-Villarreal, Kariana Hernandez, Cari Hopson, Darnel Hortelano, Carla Jackson, Victoria Janiszewski, Stephanie Jenkins Whipple, Jenae Jones, Sierra Jones, Tilaxmi Kafle, Amanda Leonard, Tabitha Long, Brianna Maloney, Danielle McCarthy, Emma B. Miller, Sabrina Myers, Emma Norris, Abena Boatemaa Okyere Acheampong, Veronica Olsen, Anna Nicole Pagala, Lauren Parker, Katlyn Permenter, Grace Prelog, Taylor Richards, Lori Rushworth, Silvia Sarnecki, Chelsea Sauer, Kristen Schoch, Elizabeth Soehl, Shari Templeman, Tina Thomson, India Vereen, Kristine Vermillion, Kelley Violette, Adam Warner, Lauren Welch, Amber Wenger, Shannon Windsor, Monique Wiseman, Kaleigh Summer Wood.