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Catawba nursing graduates get their pins in a modified ceremony

By Carl Blankenship
carl.blankenship@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY – Tuesday morning was filled with elbow bumps and air hugs as Catawba College took some time to honor its latest nursing graduates.

The graduates lined up in cars with their families, stepping out to receive their pins, a gift from the nursing faculty, blessings and congratulations from Rev. Kenneth Clapp, the college’s chaplain, senior vice president and interim president. The annual ceremony went on with changes to comply with social distancing rules. Everyone wore masks, graduates spent most of their time in their vehicles and Clapp wore a glove for delivering the blessings.

Department Chair Valerie Rakes said the ceremony is usually held in Catawba’s chapel. This year, it was moved in front of the chapel.

“The interesting thing about this class is they all have jobs, and all the healthcare systems are ready for them to go to work,” Rakes said, adding the program wants to honor the graduates because of their final year being cut short.

Gift boxes given to each graduate contained a lamp. During a normal ceremony the graduates would light them and say the Nightingale Pledge, but the faculty filmed the ceremony separately and said the pledge. The recording was given to the students.

Florence Nightingale is recognized as the founder of modern nursing who lived most of her life in the United Kingdom in 1800s and served as a nurse in the Crimean War.

The college also gives out an award named for after Nightingale to one graduating senior. Rakes said the department looks for a leader who shoes compassion and integrity. This year’s winner was Paige Carmac.

“She has gone over and beyond anyone that I’ve ever seen that received that award,” Rakes said. “She never thinks of herself, she is a selfless individual.

Assistant Professor Alison Atwater said the nursing graduation is usually a formal event for for the college, and she was uneasy going into Tuesday’s event. Afterward, Atwater said she thought the ceremony was still unique and special for the graduates.

Several faculty members said they were disappointed they could not hug their students due to the pandemic.

Graduate Autumn McGee said she was happy to still be able to take part in the ceremony as well as see her professors and classmates despite the circumstances. She will work as a medical surgical nurse at Atrium Health Cabarrus.

Madi Lilly, another graduate, said she wished it could have been done the traditional way, but was still glad the college held the ceremony. Lilly will become a travel nurse.

“I’ve always wanted to go see the world, and now I have a profession that will allow me to do it,” Lilly said.

Graduate Cassie Damery will become a nurse at Atrium Health University City. She said this is an important time for health care workers to band together to fight something the world has not seen in a long time.

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