The Bristol Community College Nursing Program commencement will be virtual this year on May 22 – the originally planned day of commencement – but is still planning for an in-person pinning in August.

Earlier today, there was chatter on social media of upset graduating nurses who want nothing more than to physically walk across the stage after earning their degree during a stressful worldwide pandemic. I spoke with some BCC nursing seniors who said they were hoping for something more than just a virtual congratulations.

One of the seniors had tears in her eyes just talking to me about not being able to have an in-person graduation. After five years of balancing schoolwork with parenting and having to combine the two over the past year due to COVID-19, it's been a struggle to stay afloat. Now that the work has paid off and the finish line is in sight, the Class of 2021 felt as though it was being denied the proper graduation for which they have been waiting.

"It has been a huge challenge and to be able to walk the stage would mean the world to me," one student told Fun 107. "We all feel the same way. We don't care if our family comes or not, we just want to have this moment."

However, according to Joyce Faria Brennan, Vice President of Marketing and Communications, the students were informed that the pinning was set in place, but is pending due to the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was never a definitive "no", as the school is planning accordingly along with the state's guidelines. Brennan released the following statement to Fun 107, noting that the class representatives of the Nursing Program were already informed:

"The President of the College, Laura Douglas, VP of Academic Affairs, Suzanne Buglione, VP of Marketing & Communications, Joyce Brennan (me), VP of Administration and Finance, Steve Kenyon, Student Services and Enrollment Management leaders, Robert Rezendes and Kate O'Hara plus nursing faculty, met with representatives from the nursing class via Zoom on March 16 to discuss the nursing pinning. At that time, we discussed the fact that we can't make decisions about in person events on the campus until June 1. We will begin opening up the campus to in person events beginning August 1 per health guidelines. No one will be holding any in person events at the college until August 1. We discussed with this group holding something in person outside or even a drive up if they wanted. That is how it was left and it is the college's hope that the nurses will be able to have their pinning in August."

The above statement can also be found on the school's website concerning any events that are to take place on the campus grounds.

At this time, UMass Dartmouth is currently planning a three-day event made up of multiple ceremonies on June 11, 12, and 13 rather than having everyone attend one session to make it more socially distant and safer. Massachusetts regulations, as of March 22, state that "commencements held outdoors are not subject to a capacity limit, but must adhere to the social distancing requirements." Basically, as long as the tent (in case it rains) is open to the outside by 50 percent and social distancing is applied, then the school can go forth with the ceremony. This is, of course, at the discretion of each school, depending on comfort.

I'll be honest, a couple of my past relationships were in nursing school and I witnessed firsthand the amount of time and hard work that goes into the program itself. The stress and tears and sleepless nights, only to strive to help others in this crazy world that we live in. So if you're asking if I'm fully invested, the answer is, absolutely.

So far, the students have raised between $5,000-$6,000 for a pinning ceremony that only costs $2,000 with an estimated 100 nursing students graduating, according to one of the seniors.

"We're paying for a graduation that we're not getting the full aspect of," the student said, claiming that it was added to their overall tuition.

BCC currently has 1,400 graduates for 2021, ready to take flight into this vast wide world, which means the ceremony likely will have upwards of 4,000 people in attendance, according to Brennan).

"If the virus takes off again, then we will have to hold off," Brennan said. "Come June, if we are on a positive trajectory as we are currently, then we will ask them (the nursing program) at that time if they want to be under the solar canopy outside where it's open space, with a podium. That’s just one of the options, or even a drive-by graduation where we can safely pin them from their vehicles."

According to Brennan, nursing students are saying "We shouldn’t have to wait until June for a decision" whereas she feels it is "the right and safe move by waiting." Indoor ceremonies are still out of the question as of now, as it's safer to hold any large event outdoors.

I completely understand that we are still fighting a pandemic that continues to improve, but there are still complications that are holding back the normalcy we once knew before the pandemic. However, this is a prestigious and pivotal moment that's been awaited for quite some time, longer for some, and I can feel the anguish and anticipation in the nursing student's voices.

I do hope to witness the nursing graduates cross a stage come August, so they can feel the satisfaction of being handed a document physically, and show off that pin and blow up Instagram and Facebook newsfeeds, rather than just hearing their name be called over a broadcast. The world has fought hard to put in place the safety measures needed to allow an event such as a pinning ceremony to happen, so fingers crossed that we remain on this path we are heading down.

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