What Do a Nurse, a Pin and a Lamp Have in Common? Tradition.

It was late on a Friday afternoon and, while sitting at my desk responding to a seemingly endless stream of email messages, the Dean of our Registered Nursing program at the Phoenix East campus strolled casually into my office. She wanted to let me know that there was going to be a “Pinning Ceremony” in the space next door for our most recent graduates. “You might see a bunch of people you don’t recognize and it could get a little noisy”, she said. “Hmm. Okay. Thank you”, I replied.

As she left, I began to wonder, “What exactly is a pinning ceremony?” The last event I could recall where one thing was pinned to another was a children’s birthday party and it required a picture of the back end of a donkey. Surely, this had to be something different. After all, this is a ceremony for our recent graduates who just spent two rigorous years learning to become registered nurses. This ceremony had to be something more than a dizzying, blindfolded attempt to reconnect one part of a mule to another. So, I let my curiosity run free and, moments before it was scheduled to begin, made my way to the back of the room to see what all the fuss was about.

Roughly a dozen newly graduated students and more than one hundred attendees made up of family and friends piled into the room next door. There, we listened to passionate speeches about the role and impact of nurses, heard stories of the struggles and triumphs of individual students and consumed the sense of pride and accomplishment that filled the room with a power that was nothing short of inspiring. It was more than just a commencement. It was a rite of passage; a captivating moment steeped in tradition that dates back long before these students or their parents and grandparents were even born.

Evidently, the history of this tradition can be traced all the way back to the 12th century Crusades. Back then, monks of the Knights of the Order of the Hospital of St. John the Baptist vowed to serve and tend to sick or injured soldiers. As new monks were initiated into the order, they were given a Maltese cross as a symbol of their vow of service.

Fast forward several hundred years to the 19th century when, in the mid-1800s, Florence Nightingale was asked to assemble a team of nurses to treat sick and injured soldiers during the Crimean War. It was during this time and while making her rounds by the dim light of an oil lamp that she became affectionately known as the “Lady with the Lamp”. Nightingale went on to support the establishment of St. Thomas’ Hospital and the Nightingale Training School for Nurses. Here, she awarded badges to nurses as they completed their training and the tradition of a “pinning ceremony” has existed ever since.

Today, colleges and universities throughout the U.S. carry on that tradition with each graduating class of nurses; frequently bestowing recipients pins with the image of an oil lamp as tribute to Florence Nightingale. At Carrington, graduates receive a pin presented to them by someone of their choosing. It could be someone from the faculty or it could be a family member or friend. At this event, many Registered Nurse program graduates were “pinned” by their children while others were “pinned” by a spouse/partner, parent and even grandparent. Once “pinned” they were then given the gift of an oil lamp. Just to be clear, it was the modern equivalent of the lamp once used by Nightingale – meaning it looked like an oil lamp but the flame was a much safer, battery operated version. Still, it was an additional nod to the history and recognition so rightfully deserved by those who have put so much time into learning how to serve others.

This was certainly no children’s party and there probably wasn’t a donkey within 15 miles (though I didn’t do a door to door search to confirm that). This was an emotionally charged celebration, a moment of recognition, an observance of something truly special. It was an honoring of those who have just begun to travel the path of selfless service that so many have traveled before them. It was an induction into a coveted community with a rich and proud history. And, it was an hour I hadn’t planned to spend but will never forget and will always cherish.

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