There were tears of joy and tears of relief.
But, Friday at the Center of Craig, many of the 19 Colorado Northwestern Community College nursing graduates also cried tears of farewell.
Although many have families of their own, their fellow students had become their lifelines the past two years.
Graduate and commencement speaker Jennifer Kerker said the group of 19 had grown together to complete the two-year journey toward an associate’s degree of Applied Science in Nursing.
“I’m so proud to be here with this group,” Kerker said. “Two years ago, we all came in here with independent expectations. Right away, they became friends and sources of support.”
At Friday’s graduation and pinning ceremony, the 19 graduates applauded each of their classmates who walked to the front of the room to meet friends and family who attached the graduates’ new nursing pin to their lapels.
The graduates then lit lamps in honor of Florence Nightingale, a pioneer in the field of nursing, and recited the “Nightingale Pledge,” signifying the students’ initiation into the profession.
The oath pledges a nurse’s commitment to compassion and the highest standards of care for patients.
“I will be active in assisting others in safeguarding and promoting the health and happiness of humankind,” according to the oath.
CNCC President John Boyd also spoke to the group, hailing their significant time commitment to the program.
“It’s been a tough road, there’s no easy way to say it,” Boyd said. “You should all be proud of yourselves. We’re proud of you and we know you’ll go out and represent us well.
“Get out there and do what you’ve learned to do, and hopefully in a rural environment where we need your skills.”
Friday night was more than a celebration of the students’ accomplishments. It was also a farewell to nursing program director Marilyn Hehr, who retired after seven years at CNCC.
“This is an amazing group of people,” Hehr said of her final nursing class. “They were all such close friends that this is really difficult.”
For Hehr, each one of her students possesses the qualities necessary to succeed in nursing.
“Integrity, for one,” Hehr said. “Extreme compassion, and love for each other and for fellow man.”
But, more than love for one another, Hehr said her students took time away from their families to devote to the profession of caring for others.
“This is the first group with so many children,” she said. “That is so special because that’s time taken away from their families. And I think maybe it’s because of their children, they have those bigger goals.”
One of those students, Janet Lott, was honored as the Student of the Year, an award she did not expect.
Lott, who gave birth to her daughter, Abby, during the program, said she learned a lot about herself in two years.
“You have to be flexible,” Lott said of the nursing world. “You have to be ready to change at any moment. Flexible and committed.”
Still, through all the time away from her family at late night clinical sessions, she realized perseverance conquered all.
“It’s an absolute relief to be done,” she said. “I guess it makes me realize that hard work does pay off in the long run.”