For the first time since 2019, UConn School of Nursing held its May commencement ceremony at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday morning. The School celebrated 107 Bachelor of Science graduates, as well as 64 Master of Science, six Post-Master’s Certificate, 16 Doctor of Nursing Practice, and five Philosophy of Science graduates.
While the School’s Certificate Entry into Nursing program commencement was held at the Jorgensen in December, and the May 2021 commencement was held in-person at Rentschler Field, Saturday’s ceremony marked a return to normal and the return of commencement traditions. Faculty and graduates in full regalia were once again able to process from Storrs Hall, down Glenbrook Road, to the Jorgensen led by bagpiper Tabitha Heavner.
“It was a special day for all of us,” Chyun says. “The Bachelor of Science Class of 2022 bore the brunt of the pandemic — two-and-a-half years of disruption of their clinical hours and their academic and social lives. I am so proud of how they have served as an example for others, not only in the School, but across the University.”
Also two years in the making was the visit of commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient Sheila Dinotshe Tlou. Co-Chair of the United Nations Global HIV Prevention Coalition and the Co-Chair of World Health Organization’s (WHO) Nursing Now Global Campaign, Tlou is also the UN Eminent Person for Women, Girls, and HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa, and the International Council of Nurses Goodwill Ambassador for Girl Child Education. She was originally scheduled to speak to the Class of 2020, but was unable to make the trip from Botswana until this year.
“This is the 38th award I have received in my lifetime but it will be the most memorable because it signifies a recognition by colleagues that clearly says ‘you are one of us, we value the work that you have done, and are continuing to do’,” Tlou said.
Tlou received the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, in recognition of her caring, innovation, and advocacy on behalf of the citizens of the world.
“Few have more fully exemplified the School of Nursing’s mission of advancing the health of individuals, communities, and systems, both locally and globally, than you,” Chyun said at the ceremony. “You have raised the profile and status of nursing worldwide and impacted the health and well-being of the world. Today, we are privileged to honor you.”
The School also recognized Vernette Townsend ’85 (NUR), who received the Carolyn Ladd Widmer Outstanding Alumni Award for Leadership in Nursing. Townsend is Vice President of Patient Care Services and Chief Nursing Officer at Trinity Health of New England’s St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center.
“A visionary and authentic leader who drives strategic and operational excellence in hospital and specialty care settings, Vernette is most deserving of the Carolyn Ladd Widmer Outstanding Alumni Award for Leadership in Nursing,” Chyun said. “She is truly a leader in our field – a practicing professional, an administrator, a mentor, and an active and civic-minded member of the nursing community.”
Faculty member E. Carol Polifroni, a professor at the School and director of the UConn Office of Clinical Placement Coordination, was the ceremony’s Grand Marshal. She is retiring from the University this spring after 47 years of service.
The School of Nursing banner was presented at the beginning of the ceremony by the Class of 2022’s five valedictorians: Meghan Koenig, Jillian Rose Levesque, Rylee Parent, Vanessa Russo, and Haley Wilt. Each had a perfect 4.0 grade point average.
Levesque is also the first University Honors Laureate in the School of Nursing’s history. The designation recognizes enrolled Honors Program students who have completed depth in their major as well as breadth across the disciplines. To earn the University Honors Laureate designation, Levesque had to demonstrate involvement and leadership.
Parent also received the Clara Williams Holistic Nurse Award, while classmate Donice Brooks was awarded the Carolyn Ladd Widmer Undergraduate Leadership Award. Kelsey MarcAurele received the Regina M. Cusson Healthcare Innovations Student Award, which recognizes those who have shown demonstrable commitment and interest in being an example for leading health care innovation through the School of Nursing.
“You are the future. You are our best hope. I am confident that the nursing profession and the health of the nation and beyond is in good hands.” — Dean Deborah Chyun
Vice Provost for Faculty, Staff, and Student Development Michael Bradford was in attendance to congratulate the graduates and confer the Bachelor of Science degrees. While School of Nursing graduate-level candidates were recognized at the ceremony, their degrees will be conferred at the Graduate School’s master’s and doctoral ceremonies on Monday.
A touching moment was when wife and husband Jill Alsgaard and Trung Le walked across the commencement stage together. Alsgaard completed her Post-Master’s Acute Care Nurse Practitioner certification, while Le has earned his Master of Science degree in the Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner specialty.
The School also distributed awards to several master’s and doctoral candidates: Ph.D. candidate Adwoa Gyamfi received the Carolyn Ladd Widmer Award for Outstanding Research, DNP candidate Sarah Loschiavo received the Josephine Dolan Award for the Scholarship of Application, and master’s graduates Samantha Gagliardi and Nicole Larson received the Eleanor K. Gill Award for Excellence in Clinical Practice.
UConn’s Mu Chapter of Sigma Theta Tau International, the honor society of nursing, recognized several graduates at the ceremony. Ph.D. candidate Lisa Garvey Harrison, DNP candidate Andrea Moran, MS graduate Erick Mercado, and BS graduate Peyton Cortese all were presented with the Sigma Theta Tau International Award in honor of their excellence, leadership potential, and for exemplifying the spirit of caring in nursing.
Several faculty members were also recognized during the ceremony, through new and established annual awards. Tiffany Kelley, who is the School’s Frederick A. DeLuca Foundation Visiting Professor for Innovations and New Knowledge in Nursing, received the Regina M. Cusson Healthcare Innovations Faculty Award. Dawn Sarage was selected by the graduating class to receive the John McNulty Excellence in the Scholarship of Clinical Education Award.
Louise Reagan was the inaugural recipient of the E. Carol Polifroni Scholarship of Praxis Award, which was established in honor of Polifroni’s retirement. The award will be given annually at commencement to a School of Nursing faculty member who has shown exemplary integration of theory, philosophy, research, and practice.
This year, the School also created the Pellegrina (Peggy) Lacovella Stolfi Clinical Teaching Award, in honor of Stolfi’s retirement from the School. Stolfi embodied clinical teaching excellence in both the traditional and accelerated CEIN/BS nursing programs for the last 21 years. She built strong relationships with clinical partners, most significantly the Hartford Public School System and Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. The inaugural recipients of the award were faculty members Monika Nelson, Sophia Sopczneski, and Hsinfen Tu.
Chyun closed the ceremony, inspiring the newest School of Nursing graduates as they set off to join a profession that greatly needs their help.
“As our ceremony ends and your life of learning continues, take the spirit of inquiry that has brought you to us and fueled your academic success, out into a world that trusts you and needs you, now more than ever,” Chyun said. “You are the future. You are our best hope. I am confident that the nursing profession and the health of the nation and beyond is in good hands.”
The UConn School of Nursing commencement ceremony was also livestreamed and is still available for viewing.