Twenty-seven years ago today…

Not my school’s cap, but you get the idea.

May 17, 1984.

Three grueling years of education at the Northeastern Hospital School of Nursing in Philadelphia, PA has come to an end.

I remember going to our graduation breakfast in the hospital’s cafeteria that was put on for us by the school’s alumni association. We excitedly – and nervously – donned our white graduation uniforms, along with our new white shoes and stockings (can’t have scuffs, dirty laces, or runs today!) and walked as a group of 21 soon-to-be graduates to the breakfast. Upon entering the room, I think we all caught out breath in our throats: The sight of the tea roses as table centerpieces was trumped only by the starched white caps with wide black bands sitting at every place set for us. The alumni rose and applauded us as we walked in and took our seats. I honestly don’t remember much about the rest of the breakfast because I was too busy staring at that cap…MY cap…I know they gave us a necklace with a porcelain rose in the center, a pen and pencil set, and a year’s membership to the NEH alumni association.

We spent the rest of the day getting our yearbooks signed, cleaning out our dorm rooms, visiting with classmates we knew we’d not see after this night ended, visiting with our “little sisters” and wishing them luck over the upcoming year…and looking back at 3 years of our lives that we alternately loved and hated. We hated the monthly Wednesday 0500 fire drills in the dorms when we had to be at clinical by 0700 and we were up all night doing care plans, often not rolling into bed until 0200. We hated doing care plans, drug cards, and dissecting our formalin-soaked cats (poor babies). We loved gaining confidence in clinicals as we gained knowledge from the classroom. We loved that we actually had time to sit and talk with our usually elderly patients. We especially loved looking at the freshmen and junior classes, who looked at us as “the lucky seniors” with our two navy-blue bands on our caps. Surely we didn’t ever look as scared as they did! We loved some instructors, feared others, and hoped that still others would retire before our “little sisters” had to suffer through their senior rotations or classes with them. We loved our profession despite the weekends, holidays, and odd hours we knew we’d have to work.

Now we’re lining up in the dorm’s main lobby, the juniors and freshmen students wishing they were in our spot. Little did they know that we were probably scared to death. After tonight’s graduation ceremony, we’d be graduate nurses waiting to take our state board exams. What if we failed?! What if three years of hard work went down the drain on our first try at the boards?! What if we – God forbid – killed someone with a medication error?! I think we imagined every kind of nightmare while we waited for our “Parade of the Roses” to start…

…and now here we are, walking down Allegheny Avenue to the church where we’d be having our graduation ceremony. Since most of our patients were from the neighborhood – and frequent fliers to boot! – they were out in force waving, cheering, and calling out their best wishes for us. We carried a half-dozen tea roses in an arm bouquet, our caps proudly on our heads, our uniforms standing out white against the blue and white of the students who walked behind us. Filing into the church, we sat up on the alter. We sang a couple of songs really badly (we were never known for our singing anyway), listened to speeches, and were suddenly being called up for our diplomas and school pins. Awards were given out, the alma mater was recited, the school song sung, and suddenly it was over. Maybe 90 minutes max and we were finished.

No more dorm-mates. No more text books. No more Sunday night shifts in the library. No more commiserating with classmates about a rotation, an instructor, or a course that was vexing us.

We were graduates of the Northeastern Hospital School of Nursing. Alumnae. Former students.

None of my instructors are teaching any longer. I’m not even sure how many are still alive. The school has changed and they no longer wear caps. Times may change, and I may change fields within critical-care nursing, but I my heart will always be with my school. Here’s to the NEH SoN Class of 1984, wherever you are!