Since this is the time of year when nursing students are preparing for their graduation and entry into our esteemed profession, I am choosing to republish a commencement speech that I delivered at Holyoke Community College on June 23rd of 2005 for my graduating LPN students for whom I had served as lecturer during their course of study. This post is the most popular ever published on Digital Doorway, and it has received over 5,000 pageviews since its first publication. Enjoy.
I am sure that a vast majority of the audience gathered here tonight are family, friends, and loved ones of the graduates. The first acknowledgement I wish to make is for the sacrifices and endless hours of study and clinical that you needed to put up with as your family’s nursing student struggled his or her way through the program. As I look out at you tonight, I wonder to myself how many dinners were missed, how many games not attended, how often was your family’s particular nursing student locked in his or her room, studying for yet another exam? For your sacrifices and support, I encourage the graduates to stand and applaud you for your unerring support.
Speaking of family, several of our students experienced the loss of a loved one during this past year, and I ask for a moment of silence in memory of the family members who left this world during the last ten months, not to mention those who passed before. I believe that they are here in spirit, smiling down upon you all with unceasing pride.
Now that we have acknowledged the loved ones who kept the home fires burning while the students were battling the demons of nursing education, I would like to turn our attention towards these courageous and ambitious individuals who have been doggedly pursuing their education and professional betterment for the last ten months.
Often, when thinking of students, our minds may wander to the quintessential and stereotypical undergraduate—living in a dorm, buying food with a campus meal plan, perhaps buying clothes and other necessities with Mom and Dad’s credit card, possibly working a part-time job on- or off-campus to supplement financial aid. But these graduates sitting here in this auditorium tonight are a different breed of student altogether. Oh yes, many of these graduates have children, mortgages, rent to pay, spouses, ill family members who need tending to, bills, loans, debts, and, last but not least, full- or part-time jobs. While lecturing to this class, I was painfully aware that many students, after leaving a six-hour lecture from 4pm to 10pm, would rush home for a bite to eat, don a uniform or scrubs, and head out to an overnight shift in a nursing home or hospital, working 11 to 7, only to come home in the morning to get the kids off to school before collapsing for an abbreviated sleep before clinical or another lecture. This is nothing short of heroic, and I stand in awe of your dedication and hard work.
Having been there myself, completing two different nursing programs over the last ten years, I understand how much concentration and dedication it takes to forge ahead, even when the studying is laborious and the exams seem to never stop coming. Being adult learners, you have little time for socializing and leisure---if you’re not engaged in some type of study, class-time, or clinical experience, you are most likely helping your kids with their homework, cleaning the bathroom, or going grocery shopping. The fact that you are all graduating today, ready to be licensed professionals, is an amazing feat deserving of much praise and recognition.
It’s often said that nurses eat their young, and it’s also said that nurses are overworked, undervalued, and underpaid. Bearing that in mind, I personally find that there is nothing more satisfying for me than nurturing and encouraging new nurses to be their best and perform well, whether in school or in the workplace. As for overworked and underpaid, that may be true in some settings, but nurses are also held in high esteem in this society, and just saying that one is a nurse can feel extremely gratifying in almost any social situation. While not being self-congratulatory, nurses can count themselves as members of a profession which holds compassion, caring, and healing as three of its central ideals. Saying that one is a nurse is something I encourage the graduates to do with pride, as well as with humility.
Speaking of being a nurse, many of you may realize you’re really a nurse when everyone you know begins coming to you with every ache, pain and symptom they experience, fully expecting a definitive diagnosis. You also may find yourself washing your hands for a full minute in public restrooms and turning off the faucets with your elbows. On the bright side, whenever anyone asks for a pen, you’ll probably have three in your pocket. But it’s most disconcerting when you start checking out people’s veins for IV access while standing in line at the grocery store. Just try not to be too obvious, and refrain from touching strangers.
Despite the sarcasm and jokes, being a nurse is a noble and honorable profession, and it was a true honor and pleasure to be your professor for this past year, watching the light bulbs go off in your heads as we discussed the finer points of fluid balance and kidney function. You are a bright, kind, considerate, funny, and only moderately argumentative group, and I will miss you all very much. Thank you for your patience during my first year of teaching, and thank you for making the experience so heartwarming and enjoyable. My blessings to each of you today and always.