Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
Eyes on the photographer, members of the graduating class of the TJC-Rusk Joint Partnership Vocational Nursing program patiently waited as cameras whirred into action for a keepsake of Friday's pinning ceremony.
Seated among the 18 graduates was four-month-old Maddison Dement.
Technically, she's not a graduate, but because her mama Mackenzie Dement's pregnancy coincided with the one-year program, it just made sense to include the infant in the graduation photos.
Afterward, the new mother described the challenges of being in the program – thankfully, morning sickness wasn't an issue for her – and how family and friends pulled together to make her dream of becoming an LVN come true.
“Everyone helped,” The Rusk native said; “my mother-in-law babysat, my husband (Luke) was a huge support.”
It was something Dr. Tam Nannen, the TJC assistant provost – academic initiative, addressed moments later during the ceremony, held at the Rusk High School Auditorium.
“I know it wasn't an easy path to get here – raise your hand if you got through this program without any tears … I don't see any hands going up,” she said to light laughter from the audience of approximately 150.
“What I want you to know is that you worked hard for this (and) you deserve this. And in the new path in your new profession, you're going come across a lot healing the rest of your life. Sometimes it's a smile, it's a touch, that healing that you put upon your patients, and also your friends and family,” Dr. Nannen said, congratulating the group as they prepared to receive the pin that signified the new stage of their lives.
Felicia Mayo, the site coordinator for Rusk vocational nursing program, said this completes the third year the program has been offered locally. TJC also has programs in Lindale, Jacksonville and Tyler.
The coursework for the 12-month, 48-credit hour program is separated into three semesters, and has a cap of 30 students.
When they complete the program, students receive a certificate of proficiency stating that “they're proficient in vocational nursing, and that makes them eligible to sit for the board exam for the State of Texas, which they have to have” to work as an LVN, Mayo said. “This program is a stepping stone (for those who want to become a registered nurse).”
The partnership between the college, Rusk State Hospital, the City of Rusk and the local economic development is a strong one, Mayo said.
Not only are students from all campuses involved in a one-day rotation of the hospital, but the Rusk group meets there regularly for classes.
The hospital “provides the facilities, the meeting room, the security, the housekeeping – everything is done at the hospital,” Mayo said.
And city and EDC officials have “put their heart and soul” into the program, handling the marketing and publicity for the program, and “if we needed anything, they'd get it for us,” she said.
Among the LVNs pinned during Friday's ceremony were Cathy L. Avant, Victoria E. Beall, Wendy Birdwell, Delesa G. Gradley, Reagan R. Carroll, Travis A. Cearley, Tori A. Choate, Keiera Clay, Mackenzie R. Dement, Heidi B. Ghiringhelli, Alisha L. Johnson, Tammie Aldridge McCullough, Raquel D. Mettlen, Hallie R. Moake, Stephanie J. Ruby, Alicia M. Smith, Cassie K. Tankersley and Kayla N. Thompson.
Special recognition awards were presented to Heidi B. Ghiringhelli – named class favorite nurse – and Favorite Student Travis A. Cearley.