Lucia Bergeron helped administer life-saving injections to her mom who was fighting ovarian cancer. She was only 13 years old.
Chris Adams had an emotional experience visiting his grandfather in hospice care.
And in 2008, 36-year-old Nezha Elomari landed in Hamden after having left her native Morocco, where she’d had a business career. She worked for six years at rigorous academic classes and clinical training, struggling with English as a second language and having and raising two kids, all because she loves being a nurse.
Those were some of the dozens of personal stories shared among the 93 graduates of the Allied Health and Nursing Division at Gateway Community College, who were formally pinned in ceremonies at College Street Music Hall Tuesday afternoon.
It was the nursing program’s 15th graduating class. The ceremonies were particularly poignant because the program, now one of the crown jewels of Gateway’s academic offerings, was begun by the Gateway’s president, Dr. Dorsey Kendrick, who is set to retire next month.
Kendrick began the program in 2002. Seeing a shortage of nurses for the available jobs, she perceived “a need in the industry and wanted to fill it” by structuring the nursing program to appeal to students — often working and some with families — for whom the usual doors to a nursing career were not open.
“It was the first evening nursing school in the state,” Kendrick said, as she posed for pictures with the new graduates, who lined up to enter the hall each carrying, in a Gateway tradition, a rose with baby’s breath.
When Kendrick went to the state and asked to start the program, she was told there was no money. If she could get the money elsewhere, she should start it, she was told, according to Director of Public Affairs Evelyn Gard.
So Kendrick did precisely that, with seed funding from Yale-New Haven Hospital and Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield.
The first class had 1,600 students apply but there was funding to support just 24 students. Fifteen years later, there’s a waiting list of 200 to get in, and these 93 added to the 878 nurses the program has already graduated add up to 971 nurses, Kendrick said; they are contributing not only to the health and well being of their patients, but to the state’s economy.
Each student graduates not only with a diploma, but with a likely job paying an average of $40,000 to start. Multiply that by 971, Kendrick added proudly, and see the contribution it makes to the economy.
Many of the students take a minimum of two years of academic classes in biology and the other sciences first to even qualify for the nursing program. Then there are two years of nursing, with many classes with labs. The last year is spent almost entirely working at Yale-New Haven and other hospital settings around the area.
To accomplish that many of the students take six or seven years as they juggle the program with family and work schedules, as was the case with Elomari. Several of the speakers hailed their families — partners, in-laws, all sorts of family members — who provided the range of support to make it possible for them to make their dreams of humane services to others become a reality.
Elomari in particular gave huge thumbs up to her husband Chouaib Nakhi, an electrician, who she said “supported her in everything.”
He called their journey together “bumpy,” but one in which he helped a lot with child care while she hit the books.
This year’s class also features the highest number of male nurses yet. Chris Adams, Mike Raffles, and Angel Nieves said they tended to bond in a profession that is still predominantly female.
Their instructor, Sam Osei — himself a Gateway nursing graduate from the class of 2006 — said that he is succeeding, slowly but surely, in making the case that the profession is very much for men as well as women.
Adams said he made the switch to nursing from business. Raffles was an auto mechanic. Nieves said he transitioned from working in restaurants. They all said they simply get a lot more satisfaction out of helping people as nurses.
Osei, who works as a nurse at Gaylord Hospital in addition to being on the nursing faculty at Gateway, cited not only the growing need for nurses in general, but that some patients — for religious or cultural reasons — request to be treated by male nurses.
After inspirational speeches and hoots and hollers as various students came to the stage to receive academic and other special awards, all of the nurses received their pins, marking their transition from students to professionals.