“Not a dry eye in the house” during nurse pinning ceremony

Erin Reeber

Erin Reeber of Topsham, Maine, and her parents experience the pride and joy of the nurse pinning ceremony.

For a senior nursing student, being pinned signifies completion. The tight bonds made with peers and faculty members - and the prospect of beginning a professional career in nursing - fuel the ceremony with emotion. When you add in the presence of family members in the room, a heartfelt sense of meaning and honor fills this yearly ritual celebrated the day before graduation.

Honor or pinning ceremonies are held nationally, and the tradition of the Saint Joseph's pinning ceremony began with the first class of nursing majors in 1978. Roughly 20 nursing students came together to design the pin, worn proudly by each nursing graduate and carrying the values of the school. "Without wearing a cap, it's a symbol of where you went," says Dr. Margaret Hourigan, head of the nursing department, of the pin.

Samantha Beaulieu

Samantha Beaulieu of Standish, Maine, is pinned by her mom.

The path to becoming a nurse is long, steep and sometimes rocky. But ask Christy Blanchard of Westbrook, Maine, and she will tell you that she didn't do it alone. "The entire experience of being a nursing major is an emotional roller-coaster. We cry together, laugh together, and share our stories," she says. "But at the end of the day, we know this profession is exactly what we're meant to do."

The intensity of the nursing curriculum calls for support, which is why nursing majors function like a family. The pinning ceremony becomes a rite of passage, launching the graduate from the Saint Joseph's family to the outer society of nurses. In fact, Ed Latham, director of Cedars Nursing Home in Portland, calls nursing "a sacred secret society." Hourigan concurs and believes that pinning is "a culmination of the joys, sadness, challenges, and achievements" of each student.

Patrick Perrault

Patrick Perrault of Norridgewock, Maine, gives his mother a big hug at the pinning.

At the ceremony, every nursing major is pinned by their person of choice. For some it is a family member - a parent who never gave up on them or a sibling who pushed them beyond their limits. For Blanchard, it was her father. "Through the years he has always encouraged me when I needed it, given me some tough love when it was necessary, but always had faith in me," she says. "Every time I've gone off course, he's always been there to redirect me. It is an honor to have him pin me."

The pinning itself is an unforgettable moment in the eyes of the nursing major and the person pinning them. As Allison Fisher of Wilmington, Mass., joins her mother at the center isle, they embrace. The words Fisher wrote - "Mom, you are part of the reason I became a nurse in the first place and definitely part of the reason why I made it" - are read by professor Gail Marchigiano. Many students choose their mothers because they are the source of the nurturing spirit needed to be a nurse.

"Through the years he has always encouraged me when I needed it, given me some tough love when it was necessary, but always had faith in me. It is an honor to have him pin me.”

– Christy Blanchard, talking about her dad

Each student makes their way to the center aisle where their own words are read. They are pinned and hand their loved one a rose as a sign of their never-ending appreciation. The tears begin to fall ... and the nursing professors make sure there is plenty of Kleenex nearby.

Danyelle Samsom of Turner, Maine, says the tears may reflect relief and joy that "We're done." The other nurses nod with consent. "It feels wonderful," says Blanchard. "It certainly has been a long journey, and I feel as though the pinning is such a beautiful tradition and welcome into the world of professional nursing."

By Jennifer Jiminez '09