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By Ella Mitchell, Contributing News Editor • June 14, 2024

School of Nursing graduates asked to approach careers with empathy, resilience

Arwen Clemans | Staff Photographer
Graduates heard from speakers about bringing compassion and resilience to the nursing profession.

The School of Nursing kicked off Commencement weekend in the Smith Center on Thursday morning with a ceremony for the 2024 graduating class.

Speakers encouraged the 468 nursing school graduates to form meaningful relationships with colleagues, treat their patients with compassion and practice resilience throughout their careers. Vice Dean Majeda El-Banna also presented 14 students with awards for excellence in areas like clinical education, classwork and community service.

Dean Susan Kelly-Weeder said the nursing profession attracts students who care deeply for the well-being of others. She said graduates will need to approach administering care and forming professional relationships with kindness in order to gain the “sacred” trust of the people they work with and help.

“Nurses witness and care for people across the lifespan, frequently in their most vulnerable circumstances,” Kelly-Weeder said. “It is an honor to share these intimate moments in another person’s life.”

Conner Dominick, the undergraduate student speaker, said during the COVID-19 pandemic nurses demonstrated the “true courage, sacrifice and resilience” that the profession demands. He told graduates to strive to perform the same level of care as the nurses that helped them in their prior experiences as patients.

“This is a selfless profession, one where we work tirelessly and under extreme stress to provide the best possible outcomes, and yet sometimes that effort is still not enough,” Dominick said. “I urge you all to identify your reasoning for entering this profession.”

Dominick said nurses have the ability to heal patients, help them understand their medications and treatment regimens and ease their nerves about the future through “words and actions.”

“We have the ability to make a lasting impact on patients,” Dominick said. “What an honor it is to have the ability to literally change lives every single day.”

Christine Riley, the graduate student speaker, said graduates must go beyond the profession’s “single dimension” of providing care to also show compassion, help patients figure out their options and combat current healthcare challenges like chronic illness, mental health concerns and workforce shortages.

“Nursing is where science meets art, where knowledge is compassionate and where your brain meets your heart, and we know we will need both to face the challenges ahead,” Riley said.

El-Banna presented 14 students with 13 awards, including four clinical excellence awards, five outstanding student awards, the Pam and Joe Jefferies Nursing Innovation Award, the Virginia Future Nurse Leader Award, the Paul Tschudi Memorial Scholarship Character Award and the DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nursing Student.

Maria Smilios, the keynote speaker and author of the book “The Black Angels: The Untold Story of the Nurses Who Helped Cure Tuberculosis,” said nurses embody what it means to be human and to do “impossible things” with dignity and compassion.

“I think your generation will do better, that you will rise to the challenges in front of you and you will do it with voice with poise, with kindness, with an understanding that more people have a right to equitable health care,” Smilios said. “I do believe that you will make the world a better place for future generations.”

Ashley Darcy-Mahoney, the senior associate dean for faculty affairs at the School of Nursing, also honored Virginia Allen, a member of the Black Angels — a group of nurses who helped solve a nursing shortage in New York City during the height of a tuberculosis outbreak in the early 20th century — during the ceremony. Darcy-Mahoney presented Allen with a sculpture to honor her “tireless efforts” to advance equitable healthcare and advocate for those in need.

“Virginia, your legacy will continue to inspire our students to follow in your footsteps and make a difference in the lives of others,” Darcy-Mahoney said.

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