Nursing class of 2022, forged in the early days of the pandemic, has “survived and thrived”


A line of nearly 100 nursing students received their pins on May 6, as part of the Radford University School of Nursing graduation ceremony.

It was a joyous celebration, a Friday afternoon punctuated frequently by cheers and applause from friends, family and loved ones.

Photo slideshows, projected on the Bondurant Auditorium's screen, offered a musical parade of images of the students – most clad in scrubs, gathered in exam rooms and classes and hospital hallways – depicting moments captured when they were still in the process of gaining the knowledge and experience that would earn them their degrees.

Helping others is a nurse's stock-in-trade, and so the blanket job description for the entire group will be “problem solving,” but the overall range of the graduates’ directions and specialties, when heard as a list, was inspiring.

Many are headed for new careers in Roanoke and Salem and the New River Valley, while others are bound for Richmond or Norfolk or Fairfax, or headed to hospitals at the University of Virginia, Duke and Wake Forest. Some will branch out further still, to Texas, or Florida or Missouri and elsewhere, and at least one will soon become part of the Army Nurse Corps.


According to their plans, they will work in fields as diverse as obstetrics and oncology, neuroscience and neonatal care, and in units that specialize in everything from trauma to labor and delivery.

One by one, their pins were bestowed upon them onstage by mothers and fathers, siblings and spouses, friends and family. In some cases, they were pinned by their own children and, in others, by their grandparents.

And while all who graduated this year follow the roughly 3,000 others who’ve completed the nursing program over its past five decades, this class was also minted with its own badge of honor, its own early trial by fire.

“These graduates have weathered a global pandemic that began their journey in the fall of 2020, just like I did,” said Dean of Nursing Johnnie Sue Wijewardane, Ph.D., who is now in her second-but-final year in that position. 

Dean of Nursing Johnnie Sue Wijewardane, Ph.D.

“They weathered the ever-changing landscape that is nursing, and they survived and thrived, I might add,” Wijewardane added. “These soon-to-be-nurses are still standing, still strong, and we are so very proud of each and every one of them.”

Keynote speaker Ella O’Keefe ’21, B.S.N., R.N., is a recent graduate but much of her address focused on a topic that, to much of the crowd, could prove invaluable – coping with the task of navigating their first years as professionals.

“Radford nursing has done an incredible job of preparing you for the… working world, and not just because of the hundreds of clinical hours or classroom hours,” O’Keefe explained. “But also because they teach you life lessons that make you semi-functioning adults.”

Keynote speaker Ella O’Keefe ’21, B.S.N., R.N.

The path before them is daunting, she acknowledged: “It’s scary and it can be extremely confusing and overwhelming.

“So listen very carefully: Shift gears and give yourself grace. Try to stop thinking you have to know everything the moment you step on the floor, because the reality is, you won’t. But another reality is that everything you know now, you once knew nothing about.

“It’s OK to go into this wild adventure not knowing what to expect, and not having all the answers. That’s where the fun begins. Allow yourself room to grow, accept your mistakes, and wake up the next day ready to do better.

“You are prepared. You are ready. Trust your instincts. Ask lots of questions. Fall in love with your real nursing work.”

May 11, 2022
Neil Harvey
(540) 831-5150