Spring Commencement and Pinning Ceremonies Go Virtual
The milestones still held the same meaning for 164 Gator Nursing graduates.
Although the COVID-19 global pandemic caused spring commencement ceremonies to move to virtual platforms, it did not prevent UF College of Nursing students, their families, friends, faculty and staff to celebrate their greatest accomplishments to date. And while the 2020 commencement and pinning ceremonies looked a little different this year, the milestone still held the same meaning for 164 Gator Nursing graduates: They achieved their lifelong goals of becoming nurses.
The first of two virtual celebrations included a special commencement message from Anna M. McDaniel, PhD, RN, FAAN, Dean and the Linda Harman Aiken Professor, which went live at 2 p.m. on April 30 — the exact moment the traditional ceremony would have started. After McDaniel provided personal remarks on the resiliency shown by the graduating class, Pomp and Circumstance filled the air while names of graduating students scrolled on the screen and photos cascaded in and out of view, highlighting graduates’ experiences at the college.
The BSN virtual pinning celebration launched May 12 at 2 p.m., the exact time the pinning ceremony would have commenced. The ceremony included many special guest speakers, one of whom was Ashlyn Weninger, BSN Class of 2020 UF Student Nursing Association president. During her speech, she reflected on the journey this graduating class has been on together and offered words of encouragement and praise for the strong bonds formed among each other.
“We are soon going to be taking the word ‘student’ away from our name, and adding the letters RN, BSN,” Weninger said in the video. “We will exemplify every quality a Gator Nurse has and more. Being a Gator Nurse means we will be a leader in our field. We are part of a Gator family. Our futures consist of different paths, some furthering their education, others caring for patients in the hospital and some in outpatient care. While we will be going in separate directions, we will all still have each other’s backs, just like we have from day one.”
Though it was not the ceremony any of the graduates could have ever imagined, Weninger witnessed her classmates finding unique ways to celebrate this momentous occasion.
“It was difficult to not have a pinning ceremony, but I observed many students celebrating in their own ways,” she said. “Students at home celebrated while walking across their living room, and receiving a ‘diploma’ with family members congratulating them. Some students still in Gainesville gathered outside and watched the virtual ceremony together.”
Upon reflection of how a virtual pinning celebration impacted herself and classmates, Weninger found the silver lining in the situation and felt her classmates were able to do the same.
“It’s devastating to not have the last memories and pictures with our friends who we spent two years with, but we were able to celebrate in ways that were meaningful to us individually. Our graduating class has been through a lot, and I expected nothing less from this group of students because we knew that we would still graduate and become nurses in the end.”
Debra Lyon, PhD, RN, FNP-BC, FNAP, FAAN, executive associate dean and the Thomas M. and Irene B. Kirbo Endowed Chair presented the inaugural DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nursing Faculty awards, recognizing two extraordinary nursing faculty members: David Derrico, MSN, BSN, CNE, RN, clinical assistant professor, and Karen Aul, PhD, MSN, BSN, clinical assistant professor. Both were nominated by undergraduate students for making a meaningful difference in their clinical education.
Throughout the virtual celebration, Versie Johnson-Mallard, PhD, WHNP-BC, FAANP, FAAN, associate dean for student affairs, helped transition between speakers and presented the recipients of the spring 2020 UF College of Nursing Awards for Excellence in Nursing to the following graduates.
- UF College of Nursing Award for Excellence in Nursing CARE: Danielle Riley
- UF College of Nursing Award for Excellence in Nursing LEADERSHIP: Rebecca Gomes and Sarah Mar
- UF College of Nursing Award for Excellence in INSPIRING Others Through Nursing: Sarah Bright
- UF College of Nursing Award for Excellence in COMMUNITY SERVICE: Hannah Barber and Mikaelyn Pavlism
- UF College of Nursing Award for DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION: Marianna Colon
- UF College of Nursing Award for Excellence in RESEARCH: Heather Cobas
Each of the 107 graduates receiving their pins were then asked to have someone close to them affix their pins as their names were called, while their photos appeared on the screen.
“I am so grateful we were able to celebrate the success of our nursing students as they moved from student to professional nurse,” Johnson-Mallard said. “This unique opportunity of a virtual pinning allowed family and friend involvement at an intimate level, both physically and emotionally.”
Aileen Gonzalez, BSN Class of 2020 Nursing College Council president and Gator Nurse student ambassador, then led in reading the Florence Nightingale Pledge, inviting her fellow graduates, faculty members, Alumni Council, guests and any other professional nurses viewing the ceremony to also participate.
UF President Kent Fuchs also presented a surprise pinning celebration video message congratulating the graduating class on reaching this milestone and reminded the students that years from now, when they look at their pins, to remember their resilience, optimism and determination.
“They will symbolize your ability to carry on and to succeed in the most difficult of circumstances, which, after all, is the hallmark of your chosen profession,” Fuchs said.
Commencement and pinning ceremonies mark some of the greatest achievements in a graduate’s life, symbolizing years of hard work and dedication. Although College of Nursing graduates were not celebrated in person this spring, it is the hope of the college’s faculty, staff and alumni that the virtual ceremonies conveyed unwavering support for the graduates and their future endeavors.
“We know how meaningful this day is, not just for our students, but for their family and friends,” McDaniel said. “We know how hard it must have been to know their special day was altered due to COVID-19. It was not an easy decision to make, but it was the right one to ensure the safety of the graduates and their loved ones. With the greatest appreciation for our students and their hard work, we hope they felt the heart behind our celebrations and know that we were honored to mark this unique milestone with them.”