When delving into the meaning of Nursing school capping and pinning ceremonies, it might be a good idea to first explain what they're not. Capping and pinning ceremonies are not graduations. They do not recognize the distinction between someone who has passed all criteria to earn a degree and someone who has not.
In fact, according to Linda Ketchum, MSN, RN, Director of Nursing at Concorde's campus in Tampa, Fla., on occasion a student nurse might be allowed to participate in a capping and pinning ceremony with his/her cohort despite not yet meeting every requirement of licensure.
"What (the ceremonies) are," Ketchum said, "is recognition from the nursing faculty and acknowledgment on the part of the student, that in the students' hearts, they are ready for the role of a nurse."
The history of the Nursing pinning and capping ceremony
Lenora Bodway, Director of Nursing at Concorde's campus in Jacksonville, Fla., freely admits that many family members and friends who attend pinning ceremonies don't really know what they mean. So she takes a document with her to the ceremonies and reads it aloud to the audience.
"The pinning ceremony is a time-honored nursing school tradition and often more personally meaningful than the graduation ceremony," Bodway said. "It signifies initiation into the brotherhood and sisterhood of nurses."
The ceremony is rich with symbolism, and the history can be traced all the way back to the Crusades of the 12th century. The Knights of the Order of the Hospital of St. John the Baptist tended to the injured and infirm Crusaders. When new monks were initiated into the order, they vowed to serve these sick soldiers in a ceremony where each monk was given a Maltese cross, the first badges given to those who nurse.
Bodway said the modern ceremony dates back to 1855 when Florence Nightingale was awarded the Red Cross of St. George by Queen Victoria in recognition for her tireless service to the injured during the Crimean War. She, in turn, presented a medal of excellence to her brightest graduates. By 1916, the practice of pinning new graduates of an associate's degree in nursing was standard throughout the U.S.
Graduates receive a Nursing lapel pin
Florence Nightingale spent her nightly rounds giving personal care to the wounded. The soldiers would see her lamp approaching in the distance giving them hope. Bodway presents every Nursing graduate at Concorde - Jacksonville a Nursing Lapel Pin that they will continue to carry on the tradition of providing care to the ill and informed.
The Florence Nightingale Award is presented to the Nursing student who presents the characteristics that most exemplify the spirit and skill of the "Lady with the Lamp." Prior to closing the ceremony, the graduates recite the Nightingale pledge.
More a celebration of a mindset
"At the capping and pinning, the student most likely has not attempted a State Board Nursing Exam and are not yet formally licensed," Ketchum said. "It is more of a celebration of a mindset. It is much like the beauty of a wedding, but the wedding isn't legal without the contract being signed, which would be like finishing the curriculum and passing boards."