ST. GEORGE — Dixie Technical College combined old traditions with new programs as it hosted a time-honored nurse pinning ceremony for its inaugural night cohort of nursing.

A graduate receives their pin from a family member in St. George, Utah, March 8, 2024 | Photo by Bridger Palmer, St. George News

The tradition of awarding pins to graduate nurses dates back further than the 1960s, said practical nursing instructor Steve Connolly, who gave a “History of Nursing” speech during the night’s events held March 8.

The practice began in the 1860s in the United States, inspired by the Nightingale School of Nursing established by Florence Nightingale when the school awarded a badge to its nurses as a symbol of their education and service, Connolly said.

This tradition was then adopted by nursing schools in the United States to signify the completion of nursing education and entry into the profession.

Dixie Technical College graduates were adorned with their new pins by a person of their choosing, which included friends, family and faculty. Many of the students chose to be pinned by their primary instructor Dalene Cummings.

“It is not common for me to pin that many students,” Cummings told St. George News.

This cohort’s journey was marked by dedication and a sense of unity, with multiple people using the word “family” to describe their dynamic.

Cummings even said she feels like the matriarch.

Dixie Technical College’s practical nursing program graduates, instructors, friends and family enjoy a reception after the pinning ceremony, March 8, 2024 | Photo by Bridger Palmer, St. George News

“They became more than just friends,” she said. “They have also included me in this group as their mother or grandmother. I will miss them dearly.”

Graduate Madi Certonio spoke about this familial bond in her address to a crowd of over 100 people.

“On the first day of school, I remember Dalene telling us to say goodbye to our families. That was really tough,” Certonio said. “So this class became like family.”

She also reminisced about the cohort’s shared experiences and highlighted why her classmates-turned-family wanted to become nurses.

“Haylie said she wanted to be a nurse because she wanted to be the person who makes a difference in someone’s worst state,” Certonio said. “Another said that they’ve wanted to become a nurse since childhood because they love caring for others and helping people do things for themselves.”

Graduate Daniel Sea also called the cohort family, though he became a nurse to provide care for his blood relatives.

“I wanted to become a nurse so that I could help support my parents,” he said. “I could provide them with personal care. I could do that myself.”

Graduates recited the oath as part of the lamp lighting ceremony, which formally declares the student’s desire and entry into the nursing profession in St. George, Utah, March 8, 20204 | Photo by Bridger Palmer, St. George News

The ceremony included speeches from program leadership and students, all echoing the theme of overcoming the challenge of being a student and the anticipation of the bright futures that lie ahead.

Jan Call, director of the practical nursing program, offered encouragement and acknowledged the graduates’ hard work.

“Do hard things and develop grit and self-discipline,” Call said. “Because there are so many days and experiences waiting for you that you’ll miss if you take the path of least resistance.”

This was the program’s first night cohort. All others have been held during the day, meaning that almost every night cohort graduate worked regular jobs during the day or the early hours of the morning outside class.

“Half of them worked all day, too,” Cummings said. “It was grueling, but they were very dedicated to the program. They were just all in it together.”

That closeness helped them complete the course.

“We all made it through, myself included,” Cummings said. “I have a few more gray hairs, but we’ve all survived it together.”

Dixie Technical College Practical Nursing program graduates line up as they receive their pins in St. George Utah, March 8, 20204 | Photo by Bridger Palmer, St. George News

The practical nursing program at Dixie Technical College started in 2019 and aims to grow to meet the state’s high demand for nursing professionals.

The plan is to expand to four cohorts in 2024 and enroll 120 students the following year.

“I think we have one of the best programs in the state,” Cummings said. “We are all so dedicated to our students, and we want them to succeed.”

The graduates have inspired Cummings, reminding her why she became a nurse in the first place.

“It is so much more than a job,” she said. “It is a calling.”

With articulation agreements with Utah Tech University and Utah State University, the program aims to have its new graduates well-positioned for further education and opportunities.

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