El Paso Community College nursing students march out for a pinning ceremony that marks their graduation. (Photo courtesy of El Paso Community College)

More than 70 El Paso Community College graduates were welcomed into the nursing profession Thursday during a rite-of-passage ceremony that dates back to the 19th century.

The event, called a pinning ceremony, is an internationally known commencement ritual that welcomes incoming nurses. EPCC recognized 73 graduates in the nursing department’s first in-person graduation since 2019.

“This is the welcome into the profession,” said Hafid Guerrero, an associate professor of nursing.

During the ceremony, students are given a white candle to light and a pin to represent the school. The students choose who places the pin.

For Jeanette Rubalcava, a single mother, it was her 5-year-old daughter.

“I did this for her, along with my son,” Rubalcava said. “They were the ones pushing me through.”

Her mother, Diana Rubalcava, said she’s beyond proud of her daughter and agrees that this is also a moment for her granddaughter.

“She sees mommy on the computer and sees mommy doing her work,” Diana said. “It motivates her.”

El Paso Community College nursing students participate in a socially distanced pinning ceremony that marked their graduation. (Photo courtesy of El Paso Community College)

Rubalcava said the transition to online learning during a pandemic wasn’t easy.

“It happened all so quickly that there wasn’t time to adapt,” she said.

Halfway in their schooling, Guerrero said students were restricted in their abilities to experience real-world clinicals at hospitals.

“In July and August, hospitals were closed because of COVID and we were restricted from those areas,” he said.

But the school and staff were able to come up with unique ways to learn, including online simulations and telemedicine.

“With the telemedicine we had the faculty pretend they were patients and the students had to be nurses,” he said.

Nuria Heranadez, a professor of pediatrics, said the graduates will now enter a new world because of COVID-19.

“A lot of nurses that were here for a long time started doing travel nursing, so hospitals have a lot of new nurses,” she said. “These students are going to be going into those hospitals and taking on those roles.”

Hernandez said she is happy that a lot of the students will be staying in El Paso to serve their community.

Adrian Martinez, an Army veteran, said he wanted the challenge of becoming a nurse.

“It’s been challenging but very satisfying because we were able to do it,” he said.

His wife is also a nurse and Martinez chose her to place his pin.

“I feel the momentum today,” he said. “I’m done, I was able to achieve my goal and it feels good.”

The pinning ceremony dates back to the days of Florence Nightingale, one of the first known nurses who was born in Great Britain in 1820, Guerrero said. Nightingale would carry a candle lamp at night so patients could recognize her if they needed help and became known as, “The Lady with the Lamp.”

El Paso Community College will have a virtual commencement ceremony for spring 2021 graduates on May 22. More information can be found here.

Daniel Perez covers higher education for El Paso Matters, in partnership with Open Campus.

Higher education reporter for El Paso Matters, in partnership with Open Campus.