It’s not often that pets are invited to graduation celebrations, but St. Petersburg College School of Nursing’s Class of 2020 made history on May 6. Due to social gathering restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, they became the first class in the 64 years of the program to graduate via Zoom conference. College administration, instructors, graduates, their families and even some cats and dogs all logged on to celebrate 153 Nursing graduates.
The unusual circumstances didn’t dampen the celebratory mood, but tears of gratitude, relief and pride certainly flowed. The Zoom graduation celebration began at 9:30 a.m. After the final strains of Pomp and Circumstance played, SPC College of Nursing Dean Louisana Louis welcomed everyone and introduced SPC President Dr. Tonjua Williams, who was calling in from home, all decked out in her full graduation regalia.
“I think you can tell that I’m so excited, proud and happy for you,” Williams said. “I know you’ve done the hard work and the long hours, and you are more than prepared for this profession. It is my honor and pleasure to say congratulations.”
Williams also noted her pride in the group’s perseverance through the past few months.
“You hear people say, ‘the tassel is worth the hassle,’ but you guys got a double dose at the end of your experience. I know sometimes you felt like quitting, but your family, spouses, and children became the passion behind your purpose.”
An emotional Louis told the grads that she was proud of the group for standing outside their comfort zones and meeting the challenge to finish their degrees.
“This was not just a regular semester,” Louis said. “It challenged each of you. Today we celebrate you, because you refused to give up. We know it was not easy transitioning online, and now you are all Titan nurses.”
Louis invited everyone to turn their mics off and give a cheer, which lasted well over a minute. Once everyone was muted again, Acting Vice President of Academic Affairs Susan Demers addressed the group. She noted that whenever she is being seen at a medical office, she always makes sure they know she’s from SPC.
“I always make sure my badge is displayed prominently, and it never fails, even when a nurse is not an SPC grad, they always speak with such respect for our program.”
Demers reminded them that what they’d accomplished was something that no one had ever asked of a group of nursing students before.
“After the grit and fortitude that you have shown this last semester, YOU are who I want to be my nurses.”
Next, College of Nursing Chair Virginia Schneider moderated select graduates, one from each clinical group, who spoke on behalf of their groups.
Like many others, Kevin Miles thanked faculty and staff for all their efforts to make sure his group was able to graduate.
“Words can’t even explain how happy and grateful we are,” Miles said. “We truly appreciate all the hard work the staff went through, all the last minute changes, the things you put together for us. It would have been devastating to not be able to graduate.”
During her turn, Brenda Geraldo showed everyone her grandmother’s nursing pin and congratulated her fellow graduates.
“We cried, yelled, screamed and got a couple of extra gray hairs, but we did it,” she said.
After the last student spoke, Schneider commended them again and wished them all well. Then, mics were again unmuted to allow for more celebratory cheers and applause. People called out names or just whooped and clapped. Pets were hugged, and two little voices rose in unison above the din.
“Mama’s number one! Mama’s number one!” they called, as their mother pulled them into her arms, beaming.