May 2021

Nursing Students Rise to the Occasion

May 26, 2021    |  

Smiles. Applause. Photos reflecting on the past year. All of these were part and parcel of a traditional commencement ceremony for the University of Maryland School of Nursing (UMSON) held during quite a nontraditional time.

Faculty of the University of Maryland School of Nursing celebrate this year's graduating class during a virtual ceremony.

Faculty of the University of Maryland School of Nursing celebrate this year's graduating class during a virtual ceremony.

“Although each graduation ceremony is momentous, this is now the third virtual conferral of degrees in our 132-year history,” said Jane M. Kirschling, PhD, RN, FAAN, the Bill and Joanne Conway Dean of the University of Maryland School of Nursing, as she welcomed graduates and their families to a May 20 virtual ceremony. “I am certain that we will always remember how we gathered to recognize the many accomplishments and achievements of our spring 2021 graduates.

“It goes without saying that nursing, at its very core, is a profession marked by a deep dedication and commitment to ensuring the health, safety, and well-being of our patients and our communities. However, the events of the past 14 months, our national and global struggle to combat COVID-19, give additional meaning to this dedication.”

The past year, Kirschling said, is “a reminder that nursing does not have the opportunity to pick and choose its moments of service. But rather, it must always be on the ready to respond.”

Despite the challenges of a global pandemic, 447 nursing degrees and certificates were conferred, including 212 bachelor’s degrees, 92 master’s degrees, 12 certificates, and 131 Doctor of Nursing Practice degrees.

Kirschling thanked those who have worked on the front lines of the pandemic, in particular the 442 students who chose the early-exit option in 2020 and 2021 and those students who have volunteered to serve in other capacities.

“And to all of our students, you have successfully persevered during a difficult time, completed your studies, and earned your degree — all while balancing multiple demands and stressors. You have my deepest respect and that of all of us for your efforts and your hard work,” she said.

During the ceremony, the Dean’s Medal for Distinguished Service was virtually presented to former Maryland Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, MAS, BSN ’80, an UMSON Visionary Pioneer, for her many contributions to UMSON, to nurses throughout Maryland, and to the “countless patients, families, and communities that we all serve,” Kirschling said.

The award, crafted by University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) President Bruce E. Jarrell, MD, FACS, a skilled metalsmith, recognizes individuals external to UMSON who have demonstrated an exceptional commitment to advancing the school and its mission.

Nathan-Pulliam served in the Maryland General Assembly for 24 years before retiring in late 2019. She dedicated her career to ensuring that all Marylanders have access to health care. During her first year in office, she created a $2.6 million breast cancer diagnosis and treatment program for low-income women. She championed legislation in the areas of children, youth and families, health care insurance and Medicaid, mental health, health care workforce diversity, and underserved populations and health inequities.

Before her retirement, one of Nathan-Pulliam’s final legislative achievements was the creation of the Social Determinants of Health Task Force of Baltimore City, a cutting-edge policy intervention and the first such legislatively mandated task force in the country.

“She has never lost sight of her calling as a nurse,” Kirschling said. “And she has used her experience to address issues of access and quality of care and to advocate for the need to address health care disparity.”

Jarrell also conferred Honorary Doctor of Public Service degrees to William “Bill” Conway, MBA, and his wife, Joanne Conway. In 2010, Bill Conway began focusing on the importance of job creation. After soliciting ideas about how to support efforts in the region, he concluded there was a need to provide the education required for individuals to qualify for existing, well-paying jobs through scholarships and financial assistance. Upon the urging of Joanne Conway, they chose as part of their efforts to significantly support nursing education.

“This was in response to the wonderful care that their parents received in the final year of life, and in light of the significant shortage of nurses in the region,” Kirschling said.

Through their Bedford Falls Foundation, the couple has contributed nearly $30 million toward transforming nursing education and, by fall 2027, will have funded more than 830 Conway Scholarships for UMSON students.

“They have provided access to nursing education for countless students and ensured the excellence and diversity of the next generation of nursing,” Kirschling said. “Their generosity has enabled us to increase opportunities for individuals to enter the nursing profession, for practicing nurses to earn their baccalaureate degrees, and for nurses to pursue graduate education.

“On a daily basis, the Conways are adding to the cohort of dedicated nurses who are educated and equipped to deliver compassionate and competent care to patients and their families and through this, to improve the health and well-being of all of our communities.”

Jarrell provided congratulatory remarks to the graduates in a prerecorded video.

“I had hoped that we could be together in person, but I’m at least glad that we came together virtually while staying safe and hopefully healthy,” he said. “I know the end of your time at UMB has come to a close in a way that none of us could have predicted or envisioned. It’s tough enough to get through professional school during ordinary times. I am certain that it took an extra dose of flexibility and adaptability under these conditions to stay your course and complete your studies. Your resiliency amidst this global pandemic is commendable. Thank you for your great accomplishment.”

Navigating nursing school during a global pandemic is not for the faint of heart, said Henry Inegbenosun, DNP ’21, BSN ’15, who delivered the student remarks on behalf of the Class of 2021.

“Despite all the challenges we faced in our personal lives dealing with COVID-19, the Class of 2021 showed time and again that we could do anything we put our minds to,” he said. “Every crisis has its heroes. Firefighters race into burning buildings. Soldiers and police officers place themselves in the line of fire. During times of fear and uncertainty, the world called, and nursing answered.”

Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Inegbenosun said he often faced difficult choices during his education.

“Throughout my program, I had to consider various life decisions, contemplating if I should pay for rent, put food on the table, or pay for school,” he said. “But with a passion for knowledge and love of wisdom, my nursing education won every time, and I overcame the social determinants most have only considered in theory.

“We are entry-level and advanced practice. We are military and public health. We are anesthesia and informatics. We are pediatrics and geriatrics. We are acute care and primary care. And, indeed, we are the University of Maryland School of Nursing Graduating Class of 2021, equipped to change the world, one patient at a time.”

The ceremony closed with a virtual recitation of the Professional Nursing Pledge by graduates, nurses on the faculty, and nurses in the viewing audience.

Additional awards were presented. For a complete list and other commencement highlights, view the program.