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The pomp and circumstance of commencement at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh means it’s time to bring out the gonfalons, hoods, medallions, mortarboards and tassels.

Although the nursing pin is likely the tiniest of all the symbols associated with graduation, it is full of meaning and significance for graduating seniors in UWO’s College of Nursing (CON).

With a rich history dating back to the Maltese Cross, the metal pins symbolize that a nursing student has completed the educational requirements necessary to take the state licensing exam and then to practice nursing.

At UW Oshkosh, students receive their pins at the CON Recognition Ceremony following commencement.

“This is a student-driven event—the graduates plan it, raise the funds for it (with a small amount of support from the college and the Oshkosh Student Nurses’ Association) and select inspiring faculty and student speakers,” said Rebecca Cleveland, assistant director of Student Academic Affairs-Undergraduate Nursing Program.

“Graduates take the stage, are introduced and someone important in their life presents the pin. The event represents the culmination of a great deal of hard work, dedication and the transition from student nurse to professional nurse.”

Nursing students at UW Oshkosh develop close bonds as they all make their way through the same classes together as a cohort.

“Our nursing students support one another through rigorous courses, practice skills on each other, carpool to clinical agencies before dawn often through snow and ice, form study groups that meet all hours, comfort one another when distressed and laugh together when there is time to relax,” Cleveland said. “The recognition ceremony tradition represents the last time these friends are together as a group. They celebrate their success and reflect, sometimes through tears, on the many memories they shared.”

Those memories the pin represents often last a lifetime, which is why UWO political science alumnus Chris Astrella, of Sun Prairie, worked with University Books & More to surprised his wife—UWO nursing alumna Julie—with a replacement pin for their anniversary in August.

Julie’s original pin had been a present from Chris when they graduated in 2003.

“She lost it somewhere at Meriter Hospital on one of her nursing shifts more than five years ago,” he said. “It was a symbol of what she accomplished in her time at Oshkosh. Without her undergrad degree from UWO, there’s no way she would have been able to go on to receive her doctor of nursing practice (DNP), or her master’s degree for that matter. It really has come full circle for her.”

Kaitlyn Schmitt

In December, the tradition of someone special or influential in their life presenting the pin to each new nursing grad continues at UW Oshkosh.

UWO nursing seniors Kaitlyn Schmitt, of Waukesha, and Kelly Szczepanski, of Sobieski, are helping to plan the recognition ceremony. Schmitt’s boyfriend who also is a nursing student will present her pin, while Szczepanski’s parents will do the honors.

“I’ve been very involved on campus and I wanted to find a way to continue to contribute during my last semester,” Szczepanski said. “It’s our last hurrah.”

Schmitt agrees. “I met my best friends in nursing school. It’s hard to imagine that we are splitting up and getting jobs all over,” she said.

Kelly Szczepanski

Both Schmitt and Szczepanski—like 81 percent of all traditional nursing students at UWO—have landed jobs prior to graduation.

Szczewpanski will work on the neurology floor at Aurora Baycare in Green Bay and begin the DNP-Family Nurse Practitioner Program next fall, while Schmitt will work in neonatal intensive care at Aurora in West Allis.

At commencement, the 63 nursing seniors will wear their stethoscopes, nursing cords and decorated mortarboards. Later in the afternoon, they’ll attend the recognition ceremony, where they will receive their treasured pins that they’ll wear for a lifetime.

“The pins symbolize our journey,” Szczepanski said.


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