SMC nursing graduates persevere through pandemic

Published 9:48 am Monday, December 20, 2021

DOWAGIAC — Southwestern Michigan College Dec. 16 welcomed 18 new nurses to America’s largest health-care profession with 4.2 million registered nurses nationwide.

Students were honored for completing their associate of applied science degree in nursing, which prepares them for national licensure as a registered nurse.

The December 2021 class, the first to be pinned in the theatre of the Dale A. Lyons Building on SMC’s Dowagiac campus since 2019 due to COVID-19, joins the ranks of 3,152 SMC nursing graduates.

Dr. Melissa Kennedy, dean of the School of Nursing, praised her graduates for persevering through a pandemic.

“This is a very special group of graduates,” Kennedy said. “Many of these students began their nursing journey in January 2020. At a time in their life that’s supposed to be exciting and ever-changing, boy, was it! What happened in March? Nothing short of a nightmare. This group of graduates was ripped abruptly from clinical sites and comfortable classroom settings and forced into the online learning environment.”

Students returned to campus in fall 2020, but faced another challenge.

“One of the main objectives of the foundations clinical is to increase students’ comfort level walking into patients’ rooms and introducing themselves,” she said. “These students missed that opportunity. Third semester seemed to be about the most normal. We were still facing COVID patients, still wearing masks in hospitals and anytime we were indoors, but vaccinations became widely available.”

“Thinking things were going to get better with the introduction of vaccines, this group of students watched the world completely divide,” Kennedy said. “Respect for others’ values crashed to an all-time low, while mental health disorders rose to an all-time high. Which brings us to Fall 2021. We did not receive near the number of pictures of their nursing-school experiences we normally do for the presentation” families watch. In fact, submissions from “the COVID group” was heavy on selfies due to quarantines.

While this is the third class graduated into a world gripped by coronavirus, “None have been sent out into a state of emergency like we face now,” Kennedy told the masked audience. “Our COVID numbers are the highest they’ve ever been in our community and the number of nurses is very low. These graduates sit here relieved that they have just completed the hardest two years of their lives when, in reality, I fear they have yet to experience the hardest years of their lives. It is imperative we increase our prayers and our support for these graduates.

“I am confident they’re more than ready to begin their careers as nurses,” she said. “Not only have they proved it in the classroom, but also with their ability to adapt to an ever-changing health-care environment.”

December graduates include: Beth Ammerman of Lawton, Dana Bolinger of Stevensville, Dianna Carroll of Benton Harbor, Theresa Conn of Elkhart, McKenzie Creed of Mishawaka, Brynn Duffy of Hartford, Meagan Herlein of Constantine, Rachel Limberopoulos of Niles, Ally McIntee of Niles, Paige Owen of Berrien Springs, Maria Pereira of St. Joseph, Lindsey Phillips of Three Rivers, Nino Pochkhua of Berrien Center, Karissa Porter of Berrien Center, Barbara Reese of Niles, Hunter Rieck of Edwardsburg, Jamie Sallak of Niles and Kathleen Weldy of South Bend.

Limberopoulos received a Lamp of Knowledge from Kennedy in recognition of the peer-selected Florence Nightingale Award, which embodies selflessness, compassion, thoughtfulness, team play, dependability, generosity and humility.

In his welcome, President Dr. Joe Odenwald, whose grandmothers were both nurses, said, “There are a lot of professions in the world, but the reality is, you’re always going to encounter a nurse. You can count on that in your life — when you come into the world, when you go through hard times and maybe when you go out.

“Twenty years ago, as I finished my first semester of college. I was in a horrible car accident and spent 10 days in the hospital. I’ll never forget the care I received from nurses, who put me at ease and calmed me. Three years ago, we welcomed our first child. My wife, Laura, did great, I did terrible. What lowered my blood pressure as we went through that was every nurse I met was an SMC graduate.”