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Health care students, from first responders to RNs, answer the call during pandemic year

Nursing graduates at CMC Breckenridge

CMC nursing student Lucas Beausoleil lines up with his class at CMC Breckenridge before the nurse pinning and commencement ceremony on May 7. Photo by Matt Lit

By Carrie Click

Even in the face of a global pandemic, CMC students have stepped up to the challenge to become the next generation of medical professionals in our mountain communities.

On May 7 and 8, three of Colorado Mountain College’s campuses with nursing programs – at Spring Valley, Breckenridge and Steamboat Springs – hosted commencement pinning ceremonies for nearly 75 nursing students. Steamboat’s ceremony celebrated that campus’s first cohort of nursing graduates.

Graduation was just in time for National Nurses Week, which runs May 6-12. College-wide, 49 students earned an Associate of Applied Science in Nursing, while 24 students earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

CMC offers a wide variety of first responder and medical certificate programs as well. Over 130 students received certificates in EMT basic, paramedic, wilderness EMS, medical assistant, phlebotomy and nurse aide. These programs are offered at select campuses throughout the college’s district.

CMC nursing graduate Kelly Hagadorn received her nursing pin from her daughter Caroline. Giving graduates pins attached to lanyards are part of the tradition at nursing graduation ceremonies. Photo by Matt Lit

‘My gold nugget’

The commencement ceremony for nursing is a unique experience, and is typically held separately from other graduation events. Called a “pinning ceremony,” it involves lighting candles in homage to Florence Nightingale, considered one of the founders of modern nursing. Nurses also receive pins that are attached to silk ribbon lanyards and placed around the neck of the graduate, often by family or friends.

At CMC’s pinning ceremony in Breckenridge, student speaker Emily DeBoer compared her nursing education with Tom’s Baby, the largest gold nugget ever found in Colorado, mined in Breckenridge in 1887.

“Colorado Mountain College’s nursing program is one of the best kept secrets in Colorado,” she said. “I feel like it’s my own gold nugget.”

Associate Nursing Professor Jill Boyle presented Liz Frisch with the ADN Outstanding Student award, complementing her on her 3.94 GPA, her volunteer efforts at the 9Health Fair and other health care events, and on her future as a nurse.

“Liz is the epitome of this profession,” Boyle said. “During this past stressful year, she has taken a leadership role. She’s what we stand for: respect, integrity, inclusivity, professionally and personally.”

‘A lasting difference in people’s lives’

At CMC’s pinning ceremony at Spring Valley, Dr. Heather Exby, vice president and campus dean, recollected the respect people have for nurses and health care workers, particularly during the past year.

“The resiliency you showed during your schooling and through the pandemic can be a touchstone for you when the work is hard,” Exby said. “Your resilience can be a wellspring for your patients and for your health care colleagues.”

Nursing wife and husband

Nurse graduate Briana Lencioni and her husband Jonathan seal her graduation with a kiss on May 8 at the CMC Spring Valley nurse pinning ceremony. Photo by Ed Kosmicki

Dr. Whitney Erickson, interim nursing program director, chief nursing officer and associate professor of nursing, presented Michael Curry with the Outstanding Bachelor of Science in nursing award.

“Her work is some of the best I have seen in the seven years I have taught at Colorado Mountain College,” Erickson said. “Today, she becomes the first person in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree.”

Ryan Dax was selected to give the student address. He recalled working as a river guide prior to being accepted into CMC’s nursing program. On one river trip, he took the advice of a client who was a self-made millionaire.

“I asked him for his secret to success,” Dax said. “His answer was simple. He said that every day he makes a plan and follows through. That’s exactly what every one of us has done. We have been given an opportunity to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, and to make a lasting difference in people’s lives,” he added.