Justin Hang '24 MSN hugs his mother during the Susan S. Morrison School of Nursing pinning ceremony. Hang plans to pursue a position as an emergency room nurse and eventually go back to school for his doctorate in nursing.

School of Nursing Hosts Pinning Ceremony for First Tommie Nurses

The Susan S. Morrison School of Nursing at the University of St. Thomas welcomed its first class of Tommie nurses into the profession at an emotional pinning ceremony on May 23. A longtime dream of university leadership and countless steadfast supporters, the inaugural cohort of Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) candidates will enter the field ready to advance health equity and practice whole-person health.

Each of the 37 MSN candidates was pinned during the ceremony by a special nurse in their life, marking a career milestone as they transition from learners to caregivers. The evening served as a chance to celebrate the inaugural cohort’s academic achievements and the school’s mission to send highly skilled, culturally responsive nurses out into the world.

Inaugural Cohort of Susan S. Morrison School of Nursing at their pinning ceremony on May 23, 2024.
The inaugural cohort of Susan S. Morrison School of Nursing graduates pose with benefactors Susan and John Morrison during a pinning ceremony in James B. Woulfe Hall on May 23, 2024. (Brandon Woller ’17/University of St. Thomas)

Founding Dean of the Morrison Family College of Health Dr. MayKao Hang has been working toward this moment for years.

“When I look at all of you graduates, you are my dream,” Hang said. “I have a lot of dreams for you, and I know that the legacy that we have as an institution is really about all of you.”

The tradition of pinning nurses dates to when Queen Victoria awarded Florence Nightingale for her service as a military nurse during the Crimean War. Many St. Thomas students asked faculty and staff to perform their pinning, but others had family members in the nursing profession step on stage with them.

Student speaker Morgan Williams ’24 MSN, who has served as president of the Graduate Nursing Association at St. Thomas, reflected on her time in the program and encouraged fellow graduates to enter their new profession with pride.

Morgan Williams ’24 MSN poses with her grandmother during the nursing pinning ceremony. Williams plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine and said, "Life is an incredible journey, and I cannot wait to see what this next phase brings." (Brandon Woller ’17/University of St. Thomas)

“I hope you join me in being proud of our hard work and accomplishments – proud to be a part of something great and proud to achieve our dreams of becoming a nurse,” Williams said. “The members of this cohort are going to change lives forever and always. I am proud to be a Tommie nurse.”

Minnesota’s newest nurses will enter the workforce at a crucial moment: A severe nursing shortage continues to grow across the nation. Meanwhile, health care disparities persist among those who have low income, those of certain racial and ethnic groups, and those in rural areas due to lack of transportation to health care providers.

Dedicated to advancing health equity, social justice and whole-person health, the School of Nursing was developed with the current health care crisis in mind. University leaders believe this first cohort is uniquely qualified to make an immediate impact.

“We are so excited to see you use God’s gifts to touch the lives around you, to have a multiplier effect in the communities that you will serve as you bring that commitment to whole-person care into the world,” President Rob Vischer said.

Caroline Njau, who chairs the School of Nursing’s advisory board and serves as chief nursing officer and senior vice president of patient care services at Children’s Minnesota, was excited to welcome the graduates as her new colleagues in healthcare spaces.

“You’re the nurses we need right now: highly skilled professionals who are culturally responsive, with clinical excellence, and work proactively toward whole-person care, advance health equity and social justice,” Njau said. “You are going to help us close those gaps for our communities.”

Each of the nursing candidates will officially receive their diplomas later this weekend during graduate commencement, but the pinning ceremony served as an intimate chance to celebrate with family, friends, and the School of Nursing’s most ardent supporters.

Maddie Devich '24 MSN hugs her mother during the School of Nursing pinning ceremony. Devich plans to pursue a nursing position in an emergency department. (Brandon Woller ’17/University of St. Thomas)

John and Susan Morrison, the lead benefactors of the Morrison Family College of Health and the Susan S. Morrison School of Nursing, were on hand for the pinning ceremony. As a nurse, Susan worked in obstetrics, in a teen clinic, in chemical dependency and more. The couple told graduates that each of them will have an immeasurable impact in the years ahead.

“One person can change the lives of thousands of people,” John Morrison said. “One person can change the life of another, and then another, and that’s what this is all about.”

The School of Nursing recently received accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Pursued in tandem with the school’s opening, the accreditation supports the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program and the school's four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program, which will graduate its first class in 2026.

For this year’s inaugural MSN cohort, Executive Director of Nursing Dr. Annette Hines encouraged candidates to reflect on their accomplishments and the reason why they wanted to pursue a nursing career in the first place.

“Reconnect with your wonderful family and friends, who I’m sure would love to spend some time with you, but also take time and reflect on the why,” Hines said. “Remember why you chose to become a nurse. It connects you to a commitment to make a difference in people’s lives.”