KOKOMO, Ind. – The stage at Havens Auditorium was a sea of red, black and white as more than 100 students of the School of Nursing at Indiana University Kokomo were recognized for completing the bachelor’s program Thursday night.
Chancellor Michael Harris welcomed families, friends and faculty, who nearly filled the auditorium during the 90-minute ceremony. School of Nursing Dean Linda Wallace recognized students for their achievements.
Presenting the student address, Mary Cameron, who also received her B.S.N. pin Thursday night, acknowledged not only her fellow students for their achievements, but also the sacrifices their families and friends had made during their studies.
“It means so much to us to see so many of our family, friends, and faculty here to support us,” said Cameron. “When we made the decision to enter nursing school, it affected all of you - our parents, spouses, siblings and children. We know you put up with a lot. There were long hours of studying, canceled dates, missed games and recitals. We truly could not have done this without you.”
Turning to her classmates, Cameron added a celebratory “We made it!” and noted how honored and humbled she is to be a part of the graduating class.
Representatives of the U.S. Army Nursing Corps presented a Spirit of Nursing Award to Heather Benich. Benich was one of two nursing students in the state of Indiana who received the honor this year, and the only one from IU Kokomo.
“I was shocked,” said Benich about the additional honor after the ceremony. “I knew I had been nominated for the award, but when I didn’t hear back from them or receive anything in the mail, I figured it had been awarded to someone else. It is a great honor.”
A national award, the Spirit of Nursing Award, is given by the U.S. Army Nurse Corps in cooperation with the National Student Nurses’ Association to exceptional nursing students.
About half of the graduating Class of 2011 are registered nurses, having previously earned their associates degrees. Two of the registered nurses were mother and daughter, Robin Herrell and Rachael Heathers.
“It was fabulous to go through this ceremony and be pinned together,” said Herrell. “We got our associate degrees together also, and now our B.S.N.s. We had our own study group!”
But if Heathers has her way, this won’t be the last time they earn degrees together.
“Now I’m trying to talk Mom into going for our master’s degrees together,” said Heathers, who also earned a bachelor’s in biological and physical sciences from IU Kokomo. “We were in the last class to earn an associate in nursing from IU Kokomo and we can be in the first class to earn our master’s degrees.”
The School of Nursing is expected to begin the Master of Science in Nursing spring semester 2012.
For some graduates, Thursday marked the end of a long journey and the beginning of a new life.
“I started working toward my bachelor’s in nursing about eight years ago,” said Mary Harrison, 36, of Tipton. “I had taken my prerequisite courses and worked full time. I’m ready for today! I’m a single mom raising a two-year-old and a 14-year-old. At one point, gave up on my dream of being a nurse. Anyone who dreams of becoming a nurse should just stay with it. They can get to the end like I did. It’s all been worth it!”
Twenty-seven-year-old Natalie Despinoy of Kokomo had earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, but decided she wanted to pursue a career in nursing and began the process at IU Kokomo in 2007.
“I’m very excited to be getting my B.S.N.,” said Despinoy. “I’ve already had a job offer from the Indiana Heart Hospital in Indianapolis.”
For long-time registered nurse Moreen Longenberger, 45, of Clinton County, earning her bachelor’s degree in nursing is a new start.
“I’m a mother of three, and in 2006, I started my life over,” said Longenberger, a widowed mother with two grown sons and one teenage son at home. “Two of my boys are in the U.S. Marines. One is in Afghanistan and the other is in California. It is a privilege to do this. We’ve had wonderful instructors who have taught me to learn more about myself. My sons have been with me throughout this all the way.”
Another R.N., Clara Sessoms of Gas City, noted the registered nurses earning their bachelor’s degrees this year have been working as nurses anywhere from two to 34 years.
“We earned our A.S.N.s and worked for years at various hospitals,” said Sessoms. “This was the first year, though that IU Kokomo had a pod at Tipton Hospital. It was wonderful. Some of us have never been pinned. We’ve shared so many experiences together, that by the time we’ve come to this point, we’ve been together for a whole year. We’ve come here from all over – Marion, Indianapolis, and Muncie – to earn our bachelor’s degrees and be pinned. It’s a great honor.”
Guest speaker Darcy Burthay, chief nursing officer and chief operating officer at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis, used slides from when she first became a nurse 27 years ago to show how much nursing has changed and technology has advanced.
“As much as that I’ve shared with you that’s changed, there’re some things that have stayed the same,” said Burthay. “The most important is patients and providing quality service to our patients.”
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.