The pinning ceremony represents the culmination of years of study and hard work to thousands of nursing graduates each year. The pins and events differ from school to school, but the significance of pinning is a time-honored tradition.
Some schools say pinning dates back to the Crusades, when knights joined the Order of the Hospital of St. John the Baptist to care for sick and injured soldiers. They received Maltese crosses when they took their vows.
More recently, the tradition stems from Florence Nightingale, who is considered the founder of modern nursing. In 1856, Queen Victoria of England presented Nightingale with an engraved brooch and $250,000 as a reward for her care of soldiers during the Crimean War. She used the money to establish a hospital and a training school for nurses in 1860. Graduates of the nursing school received badges with a design that harkened back to the knight’s nursing order.
While most nurses no longer wear starched white uniforms or nursing caps, many wear their pins on their jackets or ID badges.
We asked some nurses to tell us about their pinning ceremonies.
“They taught us about Florence Nightingale and the history of the nursing profession in nursing school, so the pinning ceremony was very symbolic — like passing on the tradition from one generation to the next.
“It was very meaningful. We were looking back at our accomplishments and the sacrifices we’d made to get through nursing school. I had two children (Allie, 3, and Landon, 1) while going through the program and they and my husband, Bradley, were there. There was also the feeling of something new starting. I thought, 'Wow, we made it.’
“I’ve been offered a job in the postpartum unit at Northeast Georgia Medical and I’ll definitely wear my pin.”
Shannon Charles, BSN, Brenau University, 2013, Northeast Georgia Medical Center
“Our class of 11 was pinned in a ceremony at the First Baptist Church in Rome, Ga. Our instructors gave us pins and also some awards. I was awarded for being the best dressed (we wore starched uniforms with cuffs and cufflinks and aprons) and for having worked the hardest to accomplish my goals. I didn’t have family there to praise me, but I felt praised that night at the ceremony. I felt a great sense of accomplishment and excitement about starting work. I knew I had earned it, and was part of a team who had finished something.
“I didn’t choose to be a nurse. God chose it for me. My sister was born with a rare heart condition and she had to stay at Emory Hospital when I was 15. Those interns and nurses took me under their wing and showed me how to change a tracheotomy tube and take care of her, because we couldn’t afford nurses when she came home. That was the beginning of my nursing career.
“Later, I moved in and lived with a woman in town so I could walk to nursing school. I kept the church nursery Sunday mornings and nights to earn the $10 a week I needed to live on. I’ve worked with a lot of wonderful patients and doctors through the years. I could retire, but I’m not yet ready to separate myself from nursing.”
Julia (Vera) Gandy, LPN, Rome/Floyd County Hospital Nursing School, 1961, Kaiser Permanente of Georgia, Town Park facility
“I didn’t go to graduation when I earned my nursing degree from Kennesaw State University in December of 2012, because it was my second degree, but I definitely went to the pinning ceremony for graduates of the WellStar School of Nursing. It was sponsored by our student nursing association.
“I worked as a police officer and in business before I started out volunteering in an emergency room and saw that I loved it. I’m so glad that I got a job in an intensive care unit.
“My parents and my girlfriend came to the ceremony. We used battery-operated candles (because of fire regulations) for our lamps and said the Nightingale Creed. I saw that moment as the closing of one chapter and the start of another. Getting your pin is sort of like soldiers receiving their jump wings. Someone else pins it on you. I felt like I was joining a prestigious group and being welcomed into that realm.
“I’m planning to frame my diploma, my pin and my ticket to the pinning ceremony together.”
John Zanca, RN, BSN, Kennesaw State University, 2012, Atlanta Medical Center
“We were pinned in church with our Florence Nightingale lamps all lit, and it was so emotional. I looked around at the girls I’d been living and working with for 33 months and realized we were all going to the next stage of our lives. Being pinned was the culmination of everything. We’d lived together, fought over the phone to call our boyfriends, cried, laughed and cheered together. It was both sad and exciting to know we were starting our careers. You know you’ve earned that pin when you receive it and you wear it proudly.
“Three years after I graduated, my house burned down and I lost everything, including my pin. The girl living above me had been a fellow student and she lost hers, too. But our nursing school replaced our pins. I keep mine in the safe now.
“Serving on the alumni board of what is now Georgia Baptist College of Nursing of Mercer University, I learned that some graduates couldn’t afford pins. I started talking to alums and we raised money so that every graduate would have one.”
Dee Keeton, RN, MN, CPHRM, Georgia Baptist Hospital School of Nursing, 1982, DeKalb Regional Health System
“I started out in business administrative work, but it wasn’t rewarding and I didn’t feel like I was going anywhere, so I decided to follow my mother’s footsteps and become a nurse.
“The Byrdine F. Lewis School of Nursing held its own convocation and pinning ceremony right before I graduated. They called us up individually to pin our pins on. My family was in New York, but my husband was there. He put me through nursing school. He should have gotten something, too, for all the support. The pin meant that I was really starting a career. I display it on a board in my office at home. It’s a physical reminder of who I am.”
Sumalee Ryan, BSN, RN, Georgia State University, 2012, Atlanta Medical Center
“Our pinning ceremony was in the Second Ponce de Leon Baptist Church and we all walked into the church together. We got to choose someone who was particularly helpful in our nursing education to pin us. I asked professor Jill Ray to do mine. I had her for two courses, but she was also the advisor for our student nursing association and I had really gotten to know her traveling to conferences together.
“My parents and fiancé were there. All of it was meaningful, but I especially liked the prayer that professor Susan Gunby gave at the end to bless our hands. So much of what we do as nurses we do with our hands, so that seemed especially meaningful and relevant.
“I plan to give the stole of gratitude that we received to my parents, but I’m taking my pin to Austin and will wear it. It will be a good chance to let other people know that I went to nursing school on the other side of the country. A pin is a reminder of your school that you can take with you.”
Ellie Brissette, BSN, Georgia Baptist College of Nursing of Mercer University, 2013, Children’s Hospital of Austin
“Our pinning ceremony was held in Pearce Auditorium on the Brenau University campus, and it was a very sweet and symbolic ceremony. Pinning is a rite of passage that signifies your accomplishments and the knowledge that you’ve gained. We also received lamps that we lit to symbolize our knowledge, commitment and compassion. The lamp tradition comes from Florence Nightingale, who was called the Lady with the Lamp, because she cared for soldiers in the wards at night. Professors told us that we were igniting an endless ray of hope and love, as we took the Nightingale pledge.
“My husband, Bart, and four-year-old daughter, Morgan, put my pin on. I will always remember the pride and accomplishment I felt at that moment. My nursing pin stands for the student I was and the nurse I had become.”
Ashley Latty, BSN, Brenau University School of Nursing, 2013
“I received my pin in the Madonna della Strada Chapel on the Lakeshore Campus in Chicago. It’s a beautiful Catholic cathedral right on Lake Michigan. We all processed in together with organ music, like a wedding. Then we were called to the altar one-by-one and knelt down to receive our pins.
“Loyola is a Catholic University, so there was definitely a spiritual sense to the ceremony. Our leaders told us that they were proud of all our hard work and dedication and that the pin signified our going forward to serve humanity and be nursing leaders. We were told to go and do great things. It was inspiring and I remember a tremendous spirit of happiness.
“It’s funny that you should ask me about my pinning ceremony now. I wore my pin every single day up until about a month ago when I lost it. I think it must have been knocked off. The loss would have been a much bigger deal earlier in my career, but not now. All that it stands for is still there, even though it’s not physically present.”
Marianne Baird, MN, RN, ACNS-BC, PCCN, Loyola University Chicago, 1975, Emory Healthcare
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