(HARLINGEN, Texas) – In a typical year, at a typical pinning ceremony, Texas State Technical College students in allied health programs would gather to celebrate the culmination of their studies in a solemn event steeped in tradition.
But this is not a typical year.
The pinning ceremonies for the Nursing and Surgical Technology programs, which had been scheduled for the end of the summer semester, were canceled out of concern for a rise in COVID-19 cases in the Rio Grande Valley.
“A pinning ceremony is really a great time for us — an opportunity to celebrate the student and celebrate that accomplishment. It’s a way of blessing that next step,” said Anna San Pedro, lead instructor for TSTC’s Surgical Technology program. “It’s a wonderful celebration, and I think it’s important to have. Unfortunately, this year we have to be mindful of the fact that there’s a greater responsibility to the community because of COVID.”
This semester the program graduated a cohort of 25 students. In lieu of the pinning ceremony, San Pedro and her fellow instructors invited each student to stop by the lab on the Harlingen campus to pick up a gift box and a pin that symbolizes their readiness for, and promised devotion to, the health care profession.
“I really want to commend them for still persevering through COVID,” San Pedro said. “They have shown great resilience.”
The pandemic shaped all TSTC students’ experiences over the past year and a half — including the 20 graduating Licensed Vocational Nursing students, many of whom were positioned on the front lines of vaccination efforts.
“My favorite memory of the LVN program was being able to attend COVID-19 clinics and administer vaccines,” said graduate Nathan Zavala. “My cohort members and I must’ve vaccinated thousands of individuals across Cameron County. I don’t think anything could make me feel prouder than that.”
The pandemic challenged the 19-member graduating cohort of Registered Nursing students.
“That’s pretty good considering what all we’ve been through,” TSTC RN instructor Shirley Byrd said of the number of graduates for the program. “The pinning ceremony is like the big finale. It’s very meaningful.”
Teresa Sosa, an RN graduate, is excited for the job offers that have already started to come in. She credits a group of friends — the “wolf pack” — for supporting one another throughout the rigors of the program.
Obtaining her pin is a crowning achievement after her hard work.
“It was very humbling,” she said. “It was an accomplishment. I have been wanting to be a registered nurse since high school, and I finally accomplished it.”
For Zavala, the pin represented validation for his hard work in the program.
“Though it is unfortunate that we couldn’t have a pinning ceremony, receiving my pin is a symbol of all the work put into the program paying off,” he said. “Though I may only be speaking for myself, nursing school was one of the greatest challenges I’ve ever faced in my academic career. So for some it may seem like a small thing, but for me that pin means a lot.”
The pinning ceremony hearkens back to the days of Florence Nightingale, who cared for wounded soldiers during the Crimean War and is perhaps best known as the founder of modern nursing. During a pinning ceremony, allied health graduates each receive a pin, each with a different and highly symbolic design. The ceremony includes a lighting of a lamp, reflective of Nightingale tending to her patients and symbolic of the transference of knowledge. Graduates recite the Nightingale Pledge, which stipulates, among other promises, that graduates will “endeavor to aid the physician in his work and devote myself to the welfare of those committed to my care.” A minister usually blesses graduates’ hands.
“It’s really a rite of passage,” TSTC associate provost Jean Lashbrook said. “They’re entering the brotherhood/sisterhood of nursing now. They’re actually being welcomed into the profession.”
The learning experiences available at TSTC helped prepare them to transition into that moment.
“My favorite memories of the program were going to clinical rotation,” said Daniel Serna, a TSTC Surgical Technology graduate. “There is something great about walking into an OR and being a part of the surgical team. Just knowing that I helped contribute to the health and well-being of another person is something that I will cherish.”
With their pins in hand, TSTC’s surgical tech, RN and LVN graduates will be prepared to fulfill their pledges to care for others.
“Never stop learning, and always be the nurse that is going to keep safety and compassion in their care,” TSTC LVN instructor Heather Sauceda advised graduates. “Because that’s all we need. That’s what the patients really need to know — that you’re there to help them.”