The Spring 2020 College of Southern Maryland’s (CSM) 58 nursing candidates for graduation crossed their final hurdle of an unforgettable life season June 5 when they attended their nursing recognition and pinning ceremony. Like most of their final months together this semester – they 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 evening ceremony was held in Zoom and was the last in a remarkable series of changes the cohort faced as they pivoted to learn about, and respond to, the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the graduates are among the 20 percent of CSM’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 event. Mistress of Ceremonies Health Sciences Division Chair Dr. Laura Polk began the ceremony sitting before a Zoom background that displayed items from the Florence Nightingale Museum in London, England.
“It feels like March 15 was five years ago,” she laughed to acknowledge when students went home to begin remote learning.
2020 – The Year of the Nurse
“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,” Polk continued. “And who could have ever predicted that as a result, your nursing program would end is such an unusual way.”
Polk shared with the attendees that she studied resilience as it was the focus of her doctoral work; and she even developed a tool to measure resilience.
“I can tell you honestly, that I’ve never known a group of people who better exemplify this trait,” Polk shared. “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,” she continued. “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. You are entering nursing at a time when Florence Nightingale’s basic principles are more important than ever, and you will make your mark on the profession through the challenges of this pandemic. But 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.”
Taking a Moment to Reflect
“Nursing graduates, you are a memorable group,” offered CSM Associate Professor in Nursing Lisa Gonzalez, MSN, RN, CNE, CCRN-K. “If you are willing to advocate and care for your patients as passionately as I have seen you fight for question credits and points back on the test then we can all rest assured, the future of healthcare is in really good hands.”
After recognizing distinguished guests in attendance, Gonzalez addressed the graduates’ families to thank them for their support.
“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.”
Gonzalez also thanked the graduates and all 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.”
CSM Nursing Pin: ‘A Symbol of Commitment’
The nursing pin is a treasured symbol CSM Nursing Professor Jeanne Hill told the graduates and their families during the ceremony. She explained how the modern pinning ceremony dates 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. To share the honor, 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 RN class to ever graduate from the college in 1979,” continued Hill, who added that the current pin was custom designed by her and her classmates when she graduated from CSM in 2001.
“Our CSM Nursing Pin is a symbol of this commitment of honor and courage to those we care for,” Hill said. “As you go forth into the world of nursing, wear your pin with pride.”
“This Honor Comes with Some Work”
CSM nursing alumna and registered nurse Amber Hutchins served as keynote speaker.
“For the 18th straight year, nursing has been rated as the number one most ethical and honest profession in America. Eighty-five percent of polled Americans felt that our ethical standards are ‘high or very high,’” she said to highlight that “nursing ranked higher than physicians, dentists and pharmacists.
“What does that say to you?” she 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? 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 use of 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.” (Read Amber Hutchins full speech here.)
“The World Needs a Nurse”
“The world we are entering is not the same world as when we began our journey, the world needs nurses even more,” student speaker Shari Templeman told her classmates. Templeman, 33, of Waldorf, was also the 2020 Spring Commencement recipient of the CSM Health Sciences Division “Achievement in Nursing” award.
“The world is facing new diseases and viruses; it needs skill and care,” she continued. “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 worked as a stay-at-home mom for nine years before she realized she wanted to become a nurse. She describes her last two years at CSM as “incredible”.
“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 shared. “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.”
CSM moved to remote operations before the Charles County Public Schools moved to virtual learning and 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.
“I was used to online learning because I am also taking classes at Frostburg State University to get my bachelor’s in nursing,” she shared. “But, it was incredibly difficult to juggle adding six more hours of nursing classes in Zoom, and help my children (ages 10 and 7) with their Zoom [classes],” she explained. “Plus, my husband was teleworking. It was definitely a time for extending grace to everyone. Our instructors were amazing.”
“CSM has Given Me So Much Opportunity”
Abena Boatemaa Okyere Acheampong graduated with high honors and earned CSM Health Sciences Division “Academic Achievement in Nursing” award for maintaining the highest GPA in her nursing class. She earned this distinction while working as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) at MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center, falling ill to COVID-19 and being quarantined in her parents’ Brandywine, Maryland home. Her journey to achieving her nursing degree has taken time, and many turns.
Acheampong moved to the United States from Ghana, West Africa in 2008 and graduated from Gwynn Park High School in 2012. She continued her education at the University of Maryland to receive a bachelor’s degree in biology in 2015, and later earn her CNA. She was working as a CNA at MedStar in the emergency room when she realized she wanted to make patient care her lifetime career. She had helped her parents her whole life care for her brother who was born with sickle cell anemia, and her time in the ER strengthened her resolve.
“Everyone I spoke with – it seemed like 90 percent of the staff I worked with at MedStar – went to CSM,” Acheampong explained. “After talking to numerous nurses, I knew that CSM was where I wanted to attend, and I am so glad I did.”
Upon acceptance to CSM’s nursing program, Acheampong received the Maryland Nursing Association District 9 Grace E. Brown scholarship; the Southern Maryland Nursing and Health Alliance Scholarship; the Southern Maryland Woman’s League Scholarship; and a few grants.
“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.”
She extended special thanks to CSM Disability Support Services ADA Coordinator Glennis Daniels-Bacchus and CSM Health Sciences Retention Coordinator Sheila Levings. “They were both like mothers to me.”
With classes over, 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 shared. “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.”
“I Never Gave, or Took Any Excuses”
CSM Clinical Simulation Coordinator Linda Goodman wrapped up the ceremony by sharing a mandate, and gratitude, using a quote from the book Unlocking the Secret of Success written in 2018 by Ayush Sharma.
“He says ‘take responsibly for your life and you will take control of your life,’” she shared, adding, “accept the challenge required to get you where want to be. Successful people don’t make excuses or blame others, they just focus on what they can do and what they have.”
She said that Florence Nightingale once said, “I attribute my success to this: I never gave or took any excuses.”
Goodman told the graduates to push forward without the weight of excuses holding them 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 names of the CSM students who graduated with associate degrees in nursing:
Shanielle L. Bundy
Melissa A. Cavin
Camille N. Chambers
Karley J. Corpe
Sarah R. Crane
Gabrielle M. Deen
Blair C. Dowdell
Heather N. Edelen
Melinda F. Farrell
Kimberley V. Gonsalves
Carla N. Jackson
Stephanie Jenkins Whipple
Jenae M. Jones
Amanda L. Leonard
Tabitha M. Long
Emma B. Miller
Abena Boatemaa Okyere Acheampong
Veronica G. Olsen
Anna Nicole L. Pagala
Lauren A. Parker
Grace E. Prelog
Taylor M. Richards
Lori N. Rushworth
Shari L. Templeman
Kristine E. Vermillion
Amber N. Wenger
Monique N. Wiseman
Kaleigh Summer Wood