Mildred Aryee had been looking forward to attending her own White Coat Ceremony since she started taking classes in the UNC Greensboro School of Nursing.

The coronavirus pandemic interrupted everything, though.

Over time, Aryee began to have doubts on if she’d ever get to take part in a White Coat Ceremony, which has become a rite of passage for nursing students.

Thanks to some quick planning, Aryee and the rest of the School of Nursing’s Class of 2022 were recognized during their White Coat Ceremony inside the Nursing and Instructional Building (NIB) on Friday, Oct. 22.

“We thought we were going to graduate without having it, but we spoke to Nursing leadership and they were able to provide this for us,” said Aryee, a senior who’ll graduate with her Bachelor of Science (BSN) in Nursing degree in May. “And we’re really happy to have it.”

Forty BSN students dressed in their blue-and-gray nursing uniforms entered the NIB’s atrium as music played to open the White Coat Ceremony last Friday evening.

Students had School of Nursing faculty members put lab coats on them, signifying that they were being welcomed into the profession. As a group, the students recited the Coating Ceremony oath about providing high-quality care to their patients.

Dr. Debra Barksdale, the new dean of the School of Nursing, served as the keynote speaker at her first White Coat Ceremony since arriving at UNCG in July.

“I didn’t expect the ceremony to be so momentous, but it was. Dean Barksdale’s speech wove in tradition, humor, evidence, and future aspirations – the entire fabric of our lives at this point. I proudly took the oath with tears in my eyes. As each name was announced, I proudly reflected on the students’ hardships and triumphs. We were coated by the faculty member of our choosing and transitioned through an important rite of passage. No longer imposter nurses, but members of an honorary workforce that took a lifelong vow for excellence in care.”

Irene Richardson, president of the School of Nursing Class of 2022

It was the first White Coat Ceremony that the School of Nursing has held since 2019, before the pandemic started. It was also the first White Coat Ceremony held inside the NIB, which opened in January.

“Throughout history, there have been many symbols that mark significant rites of passage in one’s career or nursing journey,” Barksdale said. “The White Coat Ceremony welcomes students into the profession and reminds them that, as discipline anchored in science and evidence, humanism is at the center of what nurses do.”

Keeping with coronavirus safety protocols, School of Nursing students and faculty members wore face coverings during the ceremony. Spectators also weren’t allowed to attend.

“I was looking forward to the White Coat Ceremony because everyone had talked about it and how important it was,” said Jake Boger, a senior nursing student. “Your family could see you, and you could just kind of get welcomed into the program. So, I’m glad we got to have it, even if people couldn’t be here.”

Story by Alex Abrams, School of Nursing

Photography by Jiyoung Park, University Communications