By Kate Vidinsky
On a sun-filled Friday in San Francisco, the kind that makes the city feel ripe with opportunity, the 194 graduates of the UCSF School of Nursing Class of 2018 filed excitedly into Louise Davies Symphony Hall to receive their diplomas and final send-offs to the next stage of their lives and careers.
UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MBBS, welcomed the assembled masters, post-master and doctoral students, many of whom adorned their graduation regalia with Hawaiian leis and other personal touches.
“Today, what once might have seemed impossible to you is now done,” Hawgood said. “You are graduating from one of the great schools of nursing in the world. I thank each and every one of you for your passion, your spirit, and your hard work, all of which make up the very fabric of UCSF.”
More than 1000 family members and friends attended the June 1 ceremony, which marked the School of Nursing’s first commencement exercise under the leadership of Dean Catherine Gilliss, PhD, RN, FAAN.
Gilliss expressed her heartfelt thanks to the students and noted how much the graduating class would be missed. She also acknowledged the many challenges facing society today, and reiterated the importance of sticking together.
“Ours is a complex world, perhaps more complex today than in any time in recent memory,” Gilliss stated. “We need each other. Stay close, be well, and do good in this complex world.”
Student Speakers Honor Diversity and Their Greatest Teachers
Two student speakers – each selected by their fellow classmates – then addressed the exuberant crowd. Representing the doctoral class was David Linnen, PhD ’18, a German immigrant and first-generation graduate student who applauded UCSF’s commitment to fostering a culture of diversity and inclusion.
“UCSF welcomes students from all walks of life and invites us to be open-minded about the people who make up this amazing university. It’s really a microcosm of the American ideal – by the people, for the people – where everyone should feel at home regardless of their background,” said Linnen, who has been a nurse for 16 years.
Next to the podium was Rachel Joseph, MS ’18, who spoke on behalf of the master’s graduates. “This is a moment of deep reflection on the last 630 days,” she joked before striking a more serious tone and acknowledging all that transpired in the time since they started their training and all that they have to be thankful for.
“There is one group of people who are not in this room with us today, but to whom we really owe the deepest gratitude, and that is our patients,” Joseph said. “Somehow, through all the circumstances that tell our patients to have no hope, to trust no one, to give up, our patients let us in. They are and will be our greatest teachers, and this is their degree too.”
Commencement Address Focuses on Taking the Road Less Traveled
Jennie Chin Hansen, MSN, RN, FAAN, the immediate past CEO of the American Geriatrics Society and past president of AARP, was then welcomed to the stage to give the keynote speech.
In her address, Hansen reflected on her own journey as a nurse who chose to go directly into community-based work after graduating from the UCSF School of Nursing in 1971. Although this was not the most popular option at the time, she honored her ‘true north’ and followed the path she felt would maximize her impact in helping people heal.
Hansen encouraged the graduates to embrace ambiguity and stay open to all the unexpected turns their careers might take.
“So often when we are trained in nursing, we’re trained for some degree of certainty, because safety and lack of error are important components of good care,” Hansen said. “However sometimes when you are so certain, you don’t leave yourself open to the ambiguity of what the future offers. We need you as critical thinkers, collaborative players, and ethical inward and outward leaders.”
Awards Honor Outstanding Students and Faculty
Dean Gilliss went on to present several awards to students and nursing faculty members for their exemplary achievements in research, leadership, service and mentorship.
The student award winners included Lauren Judith Hunt, recipient of The Distinguished Dissertation Award in Nursing; Ariana Thompson-Lastad, recipient of The Distinguished Dissertation Award in Sociology; Stephanie Kennell-Heiling, recipient of The Outstanding Master of Science Student Award; and Kristin Gayle Cosner, recipient of The Nursing Alumni Student Award for Meritorious Service.
Faculty awardees included Margaret Wallhagen, PhD, RN, who was honored as the Doctoral Program’s Mentor of the Year, and Rosalie Bravo, MS, RN, recognized with the MS Program’s Excellence in Teaching award.
“And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for,” said Chancellor Hawgood, announcing the culmination of both the commencement and the graduates’ hard work—the conferral of degrees.
The first 2018 School of Nursing graduates to cross the stage were 14 post-master certificate graduates who pursued a rigorous one-year program of specialized study to advance their nursing careers.
Next to line up were the 23 nursing and sociology PhD graduates, who were ceremonially hooded by their faculty sponsors as they each walked proudly across the stage.
Finally, the largest group by far – 157 masters of science graduates – lined up one row at a time and made their way toward the table piled high with well-earned diplomas.
The final degree conferred was to Ina Velasco, who sadly was unable to complete her program of studies at UCSF when her life was cut short by cancer. Velasco’s younger sister Maria Coreena Velasco, a member of the 2018 graduating class, joined Dean Gilliss in presenting her sister’s posthumous degree to her parents before accepting her own degree. This somber moment appeared to reaffirm to the graduates that they have entered one of the noblest of professions.
After a final wave of cheers, the crowds dispersed back into the sun-filled day, ripe with opportunity, ready to go forth and do good.