This past Friday afternoon I showed up at the big auditorium on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus with the funky black cap, funkier green and gold tassel, and treasured gold cord that identifies honor students. I waited with my classmates and was given a black gown to wear over my clothes. Then I stood around fanning myself for about an hour, waiting for the nursing "pinning" ceremony to begin.
In the audience were my husband (who had cut his hair and beard for the occasion), my sister and her husband who had flown up from Seattle, my cousin and her husband who had driven 160 miles to be there, an old friend who had driven 220 miles, my cousin's lovely adult daughter, my "soul sister" who had left the nursing program after our second semester to make some money and is hoping to be readmitted to complete her nursing degree, her boyfriend, and the couple who own the bed and breakfast that was my home away from home for two years of nursing school.
Lined up with me were my fellow students. Some of them I like. Some of them I love. One doesn't navigate four semesters of nursing school without developing relationships with peers.
Shortly before they called my name to walk across the stage and be "pinned", I tilted my head back and looked up. I whispered words of thanks to my mother and father, the woman I'm named after, and my Higher Power. When my name was called, I walked. It seemed like a long walk from one side of the stage to the other, perhaps because I was so completely in that moment. That moment was mine, all mine. I heard applause, but as if from far away. My feet carried me solidly and purposefully toward the woman waiting at the other end of the stage. I've been on stages before as a speaker, or a salesperson, or an actor. I'm no stranger to stages. But this, this was different. This I had earned. I looked every bit of my 57 years and carried the 25 extra pounds I've gained since I began nursing school. I wore waterproof clogs instead of the heels most of my fellow female graduates had squeezed into for the event. Under my robe I wore black jeans and a cheap long sleeved shirt. I was hot and sweaty under that damn robe and wore chapstick instead of lipstick and my hair stuck out at all angles from underneath my cap because I cut it myself with bandage scissors about a week ago. I couldn't get to the hairdresser, so I did it myself. My my, how I have changed.
The Dean of the School of Nursing placed a yellow ribbon around my neck that was held together at the bottom with a simple round pin that says "Associate Degree of Nursing, University of Alaska". She also handed me a yellow rose. I shook her hand and left the stage to return to my seat.
As I write this I can see my cap with its tassel, my gold cord, and that yellow ribbon sitting on my dresser. I looked at the pin closely this afternoon. There on the back are engraved the letters EAM and the numbers 2013. Elinor Alyx McNeal walked across a stage to be recognized for having completed an Associate of Science degree in Nursing in 2013.
Never, ever give up on your dreams. There are not adequate words to describe what it feels like when they come true.