December 17, 2012 10:33:36 AM
MAYHEW -- A new graduation ceremony at East Mississippi Community College allowed a handful of students the chance to "double-dip" this week.
The traditional pinning ceremony for the associate degree nursing program took place Thursday night at the Golden Triangle campus. On Friday, EMCC inaugurated its first December graduation for summer and fall 2012 graduates of the Golden Triangle and Columbus Air Force Base campuses.
Twenty-eight graduates received their nursing pins Thursday. Each had the option to walk across the stage again Friday night in honor of receiving their degrees. Graduates Jennifer Sullivan and Kayla Stafford, both of Columbus, were among those who decided to take advantage of the opportunity.
"I'll go for my bachelor's eventually, but that will be an online course so they'll mail me that degree," Stafford said. "This will be my only chance to walk for graduation."
In the past, EMCC has held graduations only in May. But the spring graduation outgrew the auditorium, and something had to be done to accommodate the growing audience.
"The Lyceum on the Golden Triangle campus can only seat 900," said Dr. Paul Miller, vice president of the Golden Triangle campus. "And we found that when we got to around 200 participating graduates, we were close to standing-room-only with family and friends.
"Four or five years ago, we split the spring ceremony in two -- one for associate of arts recipients and one for career-technical degree recipients. Now we had to split it again, and the fall ceremony is already almost as big as the spring ceremonies."
Miller said many of the older, non-traditional graduates who completed their degrees in the summer and fall semesters were so adamant about participating in the ceremony they would return to campus months later and frequently would be joined by larger groups of supporting family and friends.
Jennifer Sullivan is one of those non-traditional students.
In her mid-20s, Sullivan has waited years for the chance to graduate. She completed EMCC's EMT-Paramedic program in 2006 and spent three weeks working in the field before deciding her heart was in nursing.
"EMT work is so quick," she said. "I felt like I needed to do something that involved direct patient care, to get to know them and understand their conditions."
Sullivan was accepted to EMCC's practical nursing program but gave birth to her daughter, Remmy, just two weeks before the start of the semester. While taking a hiatus to care for her daughter, she learned about the associate degree nursing program and decided to go for her degree.
"I want to work in the emergency room and trauma care and also as a flight nurse on emergency helicopters, so I really need to be a registered nurse," she said.
Sullivan had a stop-start along the way, starting in one class before a personal issue forced a break in her studies, so she is soaking up the glory of finally graduating.
"This won't be my last degree," she said. "I want to earn a doctorate and be a nursing instructor one day. But EMCC has the best nursing program in the state. All the instructors have pushed us to be the best, too, and stepped up to make sure I came back. So this means a lot to me."
Stafford heard the call to be a nurse early in life. She was diagnosed at 12 with Type 1 diabetes and learned first-hand how important nurses are.
"The nurses care more about your feelings and how you cope with your condition," Stafford said. "Doctors are more about controlling your numbers and preventing complications. I still call my old nurses all the time."
Stafford plans to start out doing general nursing at a hospital, but she hopes to one day be certified as a diabetes educator -- a designation which requires 100 hours of care for diabetic patients.
One of her goals is erasing the stereotype that all diabetics arrived at their condition due to lack of good nutrition.
"Again, it was nurses who first explained to me that it wasn't my fault, that I was born with a (genetic condition). And they helped me realize I don't have a disability, even though I have to control and account for everything I eat. So I'm walking for them, too."