Drive-through pinning ceremony celebrates Fairbanks graduate nurses

Graduate nurses celebrated during a drive-through pinning ceremony at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Community and Technical College. (Sara Tewksbury/KTVF)
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska. (KTVF) On Friday, the Fairbanks cohort of the University of Alaska Anchorage nursing class of 2020 celebrated with a drive-through pinning ceremony. The University of Alaska Fairbanks Community and Technical College works with UAA to administer the program in Fairbanks.

Due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, they could not hold a traditional pinning ceremony -- so in order to still celebrate the graduates, they held a ceremony where the graduates drove through to receive a flower, their pin, and a gift from the class behind them.

“This is a very different pinning, unlike any I’ve ever been to before, but I think that we’ve been very resourceful and the students have been very thankful to have this passage acknowledged in this way,” said Jan Rud, assistant professor with the UAA School of Nursing.

Sue Camasi, assistant professor with the UAA School of Nursing, says normally they would have the pinning ceremony in a venue and invite family and faculty to celebrate the graduation. “We’re doing this in lieu of that, and it’s actually been very heartwarming to see the students and their families come. They received their nursing pins today, so they will have those for their entire nursing career,” said Camasi.

Graduate Elizabeth Young says it is very different graduating during the pandemic. “I really appreciate the university’s flexibility in creating an event for us because I think it was really nice to be able to celebrate. I was feeling a little sadness not having an actual graduation, so this is really helping out,” said Young.

She says it felt great to receive her nursing pin. “It’s all these years of working towards it. I’m a little older so I’ve spent about like eight years contributing towards going to school, and to be finally here is amazing,” said Young.

“It’s kind of great to actually have a celebration and to have something marking our time being completed and being a new nurse,” said Kristen Macmaster, a new graduate nurse.

Macmaster says this is her second degree, “I really finally feel like I am in a career that I love and will enjoy the rest of my life.”

Graduate Merry Bond says she wanted to become a nurse since she was little. “I’ve always known it was the profession for me. I always knew that I was interested in investing into other people and expressing compassion and helping people in their worst moments, and I have never deviated from that even since I was a young child. I have always known that I wanted to be a nurse,” said Bond.

She says it feels surreal to become a nurse during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I can’t speak for the other people in my class, but I’m sure all of us entered this profession because we wanted to help other people. So even though everything is really uncertain right now, it still feels so exciting to be able to enter this profession and be able to learn how to care for others, even in this upheaval,” said Bond.

Rud said the pinning ceremony is very symbolic for nursing students, “at graduation they would get their diploma, at pinning they get their nursing pin as they transition into being a nurse.”

“When nurses are pinned it makes them officially nurses in the eyes of other nurses. During the pinning ceremony, we recite the Nightingale pledge to show honor and compassion to all our patients. They usually have little lamps, a replica of what Florence Nightingale used during the Crimean war when she went around looking at her patients. We share our knowledge by lighting the lamps, and then the students light each others' to share that knowledge with each other,” said Camasi.

After completing the drive-through ceremony, the graduates watched from afar and cheered on their fellow graduates.

“Pinning is usually a very personal time where they celebrate with their family, they celebrate with their faculty, they celebrate with their friends, and so it’s a lot of coming together and a rite of passage,” said Rud.

Camasi says the drive-through pinning ceremony was more celebratory than she thought it would be. “I think it’s the spirit of the students that really bring it home. Jan and I get to be very close to them for almost two years, so I was close to tears a couple of times,” said Camasi.

“I was so grateful that our professors took the time to put this together. If it were up to me I probably would have just said ‘oh forget it, I’m just not going to do anything’... but it is so nice to have been encouraged by my peers and by my professors to keep going. I’m so thankful that they’re here to recognize this special day with me because I probably wouldn’t have made a big deal of it,” said Bond.

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