Twice the Hope: Celebrating the Class of 2020 and the Class of 2021

After a 12-month wait, the Vanderbilt School of Nursing Class of 2020 celebrated—and was celebrated—in person during Investiture ceremonies held on campus May 2. The intimate ceremony for graduates, family and friends was both traditional and innovative as it accommodated COVID-19 safety protocols while still retaining appropriate pomp and circumstance.

In her address to graduates, Dean Linda Norman, DSN, FAAN, observed that they had been working as advanced practice nurses and leaders in the time since they finished their degrees, and as such, they had experienced the COVID-19 pandemic on the frontlines and in the trenches of patient care.

“COVID-19 will not be the last public health emergency the world will see. It may not even be the last public health emergency you or I will see,” Norman said. “When the next emergency hits—and it will—nurses will again be ready with knowledge, compassion, skill and perseverance. That is what nurses do. That is who nurses are.

“I told you last year that the world needs you more than ever. I meant it, and I still do,” Norman said. “You are the present, you are the future, and you are the hope of nursing.”

The ceremony also included a video message from Provost Susan Wente and recognition of the School of Nursing 2020 Founder’s Medalist, Jane Mericle, DNP’20, and the class’s banner bearer,

Gwendolyn Godlock, DNP’20, who also served as the class representative in planning the previous year’s virtual events and current ceremonies.

In a change from Investiture tradition, graduates donned their own hoods at the same time in a group hooding ceremony rather than have their hoods put on them by faculty. The graduates then walked across the platform individually as their names were called, collected an apricot rose symbolizing the nursing discipline and were photographed with Norman and their program director.

The Class of 2020 included 328 Master of Science in Nursing and 70 Doctor of Nursing Practice graduates who finished their programs in August 2019, December 2019 and May 2020. An additional three PhD in Nursing Science graduates were honored in Vanderbilt Graduate School ceremonies.

Class of 2021

Under a tent covering most of Recreation Field 1 on Vanderbilt’s east side, the Class of 2021 reassembled for Investiture on May 15. The joyful celebration reflected a mix of tradition and variations necessitated by pandemic precautions, and marked the first time some participants had been on campus since COVID- 19 hit in March 2020.

Banner bearer Melina Handley, DNP’21, led a procession—including Dean Linda Norman, DSN, FAAN; student marshals Michael Booth, MSN’21, and Sarah Hodges, MSN’21; alumni association president Hannah Lowe, MSN’14; new faculty emeriti and faculty—past seated family, friends and graduates, who did not process into the tent due to safety precautions.

Chancellor Daniel Diermeier conferred graduates’ degrees via video, commending them for opening their minds to new ways of thinking and instructing them to go forth and provide healing care for humankind.

Norman began her remarks by thanking the graduates for their patience, adaptability and can-do attitudes during the changes brought about by the pandemic.

In what would be her final Investiture address as dean, she also charged graduates to work for health equity and full practice authority for advanced practice nurses. “Health inequities have played a major role in the course of this pandemic, and that is wrong. Social determinants of health influenced who became infected, who got sick, who was hospitalized, and who died,” said Norman, who is also the Valere Potter Menefee Professor of Nursing.

“All of us must work to overcome health disparities, combat social determinants of health, improve access to care, and change policy,” she said. “Nurse-centered care can, and does, make a difference in improving health equity for individuals and communities. It is my hope that full-scope authority will be enacted in every state as a result of the lessons learned from the pandemic.”

In a change with tradition, the school incorporated a pinning ceremony into the Investiture for those graduates finishing their programs in May and those who had not yet participated in a pinning event. Norman gave background on the significance of pinning for the nursing profession, explaining that the school presented pins to MSN graduates and lavaliers to DNP graduates in a tradition traced back to Florence Nightingale. She then formally welcomed them to the nursing profession.

The ceremonies included recognizing five distinguished faculty members who had been named emerita by action of the Board of Trust at the request of the dean, provost and chancellor. Susie Adams, PhD, FAANP, FAAN; Ann Minnick, PhD, FAAN; and Sheila Ridner, MSN’00, PhD’03, FAAN, were named professor of nursing, emerita. Betsy Weiner, PhD, FACMI, FAAN, was named professor in the School of Nursing, emerita, and senior associate dean of informatics, emerita. Melanie Lutenbacher, PhD, was named associate professor of nursing, emerita. Additionally, Norman was honored by the Board of Trust with dean emerita status effective July 1, 2021, as she will step down as dean at the end of the academic year.

Senior Associate Dean for Academics Mavis Schorn, PhD, FACNM, FNAP, FAAN, recognized Norman’s impact on Vanderbilt and nursing.

Norman introduced Class of 2021 Founder’s Medalist Rebecca Silvers, MSN’13, DNP’21, as the class’s outstanding student. Silvers, who earned a doctor of nursing practice degree and certificate in global health, is a pediatric critical care and neurosurgery nurse practitioner at University of California San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospitals. She intends to continue that clinical practice, her faculty position at UCSF School of Nursing, and global health development work with the UCSF Institute of Global Health.

Traditional investiture activity of hooding by program directors was replaced with a group hooding ceremony. Graduates put their academic hoods over their own heads before being called individually to walk across the platform to be recognized. In lieu of their physical degrees, graduates received apricot roses symbolizing the nursing discipline.

The 2021 VUSN class included 347 Master of Science in Nursing and 46 Doctor of Nursing Practice graduates. Three PhD in Nursing Science students were awarded doctorates in Vanderbilt University Graduate School ceremonies.

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Features Summer 2021