Traditional pinning ceremony welcomes new nurses

  • Angela Dietrich, 34, of Hagerstown, receives her nursing pin from Karen Hammond, Hagerstown Community College's director of nursing, during Saturday's nurse pinning ceremony at HCC's Athletic, Recreation and Community Center.
By Alicia Notarianni,

HAGERSTOWN -- A ceremony welcoming graduates into the nursing profession Saturday at Hagerstown Community College was a practice steeped in history and tradition.

During the Crimean War in the mid-1800s, English nurse Florence Nightingale made rounds caring for injured soldiers during the night. She became known as "the lady with the lamp."

In a nod to Nightingale, graduates of the practical nursing and registered nursing programs marched single file into HCC's Athletic, Recreation, and Community Center carrying glowing candles. Two students lighted two pillar candles that continued to burn on the stage throughout the nurse pinning ceremony.

Following remarks from HCC President Guy Altieri, nursing division director Karen Hammond placed a nursing pin on each of the graduates as a symbolic welcome to the profession. A number of nursing schools are beginning to view the long-standing nurse pinning practice as outdated and abandoning it. But Hammond said HCC faculty continue to view the ceremony as an important rite of passage into the profession of nursing.


"This is a special event because it signifies the end of a course of study that has prepared you for what I hope will be a long and successful career. You have reached your goal of becoming a nurse," Hammond told the graduates.

Most of the HCC nursing graduates attended commencement exercises in the morning and returned for the 2 p.m. pinning ceremony.

Melissa Dittman, 34, of Williamsport, graduated from the registered nursing program. Dittman had been involved with fire and rescue services for many years. But it was during her sister-in-law's nurse pinning ceremony a few years ago that she says she "felt a calling" to become a nurse. Dittman said Saturday's ceremony was bittersweet.

"The nursing students are like a family and we won't be together every day like we have been," Dittman said. "But we are so excited about the opportunities ahead."

Ekaterina Vasilyeva, 28, of Stephens City, Va., is a native of Uzbekistan. Vasilyeva completed five out of six years of medical school in Russia before moving to the United States in 2003. When most of her credits did not transfer, she decided to start again in the nursing program.

Despite the challenge of learning in English, her second language, Vasilyeva graduated with the highest grade-point average in the program. Following the ceremony, Vasilyeva said she felt "relieved" and "accomplished."

Kaycie Cooper, 25, of Waynesboro, Pa., said she always knew she wanted a career in the medical field. Determined to receive her degree, Cooper gave birth to her 4-week-old daughter, Elena, on a Wednesday and returned to class the following Monday.

After the ceremony, she held Elena close to the nursing pin on her chest.

"Thank goodness it's over," Cooper said.

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