An age-old and annual tradition observed at Kauaʻi Community College—students graduating from the nursing program receiving their nursing pins, a symbolic welcome into the profession.

“It means honor and hard work and the dedication that I put into this,” said graduate Shayna Lopez after receiving her nursing pin.

“It is very meaningful because it’s my first degree,” agreed graduate Mark Gil Billwayen. “It is a nursing degree. It is a very big accomplishment.”

nursing graduate

The ceremony traces its roots back to the Crusades and has been a nursing school tradition in the United States for more than 150 years. In the Kauaʻi Community College version, the pins are attached to lei and the graduates choose someone special to present them with their nursing pin; like a parent, spouse, mentor or friend.

“It’s just really great to have my family and all my friends and my classmates here,” said graduate Eden Baxter. “It’s a huge day, we accomplished so much.”

The pin has the word mālamalama, Hawaiian for the light of knowledge, inscribed over a book with a torch signifying the importance of education.

The program admits a maximum of 28 students every fall and they must complete an intensive two-year program to earn an associate in science nursing degree.

“We get a lot of one-on-one time with the teachers,” said Baxter. “Nobody is left behind and we go to a lot of clinical sites, it’s really great.”

“Whether it be taking care of patients or studying,” said Lopez. “Every day was a challenge but it was worth it.”

After earning their associate degree, the graduates are automatically admitted to the UH Mānoa School of Nursing and can pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing as long as they have completed the basic required prerequisites for a four-year degree. They also have the option to stay on Kauaʻi and earn their bachelor’s degree through the UH distance learning program.

“By the time they finish with this, they are almost applicable to being juniors in college,” explained Kauaʻi CC nursing instructor Tracy Stogner. “The courses that we teach are three hundred level.”

Or students also can choose to enter the workforce with their associate degree. Whatever path the nursing graduates decide to take, they will always remember the day they received their nursing pin.

“To be honest, this means way more than my high school graduation,” said Lopez.