Research College of Nursing - December 14, 2019
by Joey Salomone, BSN ‘19

Graduate, Joey Salmone, wearing white lab coat and speaking at podium with awards on the table in the background

Hello and good morning!

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Joey Salomone and I have the absolute honor of addressing you fine people in a speech. Which is simply words I typed and retyped and deleted and fretted over and practiced endlessly in front of my mirror at home. I actually googled at one point “how many words is a 10 minute speech”. It’s like 1000-2000, in case you were wondering. Mine is “1897”, so buckle up. I, as well as 50+ other nursing students, have the honor of graduating today and I, as well as several other fine men in this program, have the honor of one day very soon becoming a “murse”, which stands for “male nurse” not to be confused with “male purse”, which is actually called a satchel.

But this isn’t about me. I am merely a chosen voice. A voice of nearly everyone in this room. First, for the students, these men and women sitting before you. Each and every one of them has struggled, has toiled and read and learned and set aside everything, like personal relationships, to achieve and accomplish something amazing. A BSN. A bachelor’s of science degree in nursing. Depending on what source you look at on the ole’ interwebs, a nursing degree is usually ranked in the top 1-5 degrees as one of the most difficult to obtain.

But here is the real kicker with that, it has also been recognized year after year as one of the most rewarding careers, next to education. Which can only mean one thing: our nursing educators are awesome.

Which is the second group of people in this room that I would like to be a voice for.

I am not sure if you know this but educators do not get nearly the respect nor the compensation they deserve in our society. Which is a shame. So why do they do it? They must do it because they love it. And really, if you’re going to teach, why not teach those that in turn will go out into the world and improve the health and lives of thousands of other humans. Our success, not only as students but as practitioners in healthcare, are also your successes. And that must be a truly amazing feeling. And for that, I thank each and every one of you. One of the absolute worst sayings in our society, one I really do dislike, goes something like “those who can’t do, teach.” Barf. Seriously. They obviously have never prepared a lecture over the differences between respiratory acidosis and alkalosis. Double barf. If earning a BSN is difficult, than imagine how difficult it must be to teach. Now take a 2-3 year standard BSN program and cram it into 11 months. Wow. Good luck with that.

And yet here we sit. And here I stand. A minimally competent nursing student. That’s a little joke from our class. We all joked we just needed to make minimal competence to pass. But holy smokes have we reached such higher standards than that.

Each and every student that will cross this stage today has quite possibly learned more in these last 11 months than they ever have before. And that is an amazing feat.

Who do we have to thank for that? Well, obviously ourselves, we are all pretty smart cookies. And we should thank our educators as well. But we should also thank all the rest of you in this room today. The friends and families of those graduating today. The third group I would like to recognize.

You dealt with a lot. Our stress. Our near mental breakdowns, or perhaps for some of us, our complete mental breakdowns. Our lack of sleep. Our worry about the next test. Our stress over the next assignment due. The next paper. The anxiety about the next clinical. Are my scrubs even clean?! Where in the heck did I put my badge?! Did I print my clinical paperwork yet? AGHGHHGHG!

You tolerated it. You supported us. You loved us, even when it was hard. And why is that? I could take a few guesses, but I assume it probably has to do with how awesome we are.

But seriously, you did it out of love. Out of respect. Out of love. You knew and understood that this was a difficult program. Or at least if you didn’t then you certainly know now. For all that each and every one of you gave, I thank you. Every single one of these students thank you.

Seated graduates in the audience wearing white coats smiling and clapping while looking up at the stage

Now that I’ve thanked everyone, I can move on to the portion of the speech where I am going to say something heartfelt and inspirational… ummm…. good luck…?

Nursing isn’t easy. A recent study showed that 17% of new nurses (nearly 1 in 5) left within the first year and 33% (that’s 1 in 3) left within the 2nd year. So, what does that mean for all of you. Shoot, I guess try really hard to make it to your 3rd year as a nurse!

No, seriously, it means you have to take care of yourself. While some of you might end up working an office or school schedule, most will end up working 3 days a week, 3 12s as they say. That means you have 4 days a week (if you don’t pick up extra), to spend time with yourself, your family and your friends. But I want to focus on the time with yourself.

This career is brutal. We watch people die. We watch people watching their family members die. We see suffering and heartache and pain and anguish and loss on a level that most humans see maybe once or twice in their life. We see it all the time. And when you see that, you can’t just clock out and leave it behind. It follows you. Human suffering is your new shadow. So I ask you, how are you going to take care of yourself? I ask your family: how are you going to make sure that your loved one takes care of themselves?

I don’t want to sit up here and lecture about sleeping right, a proper diet, working out, finding the right combination of stress relievers, yada-yada-yada, you know that. But you HAVE TO DO IT.

You simply have to take care of yourself if you want to be successful in this career.

To quote the great American author Kurt Vonnegut, he once said: “Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.” And I would end that with “(“ Vonnegut, 2006 “)” “period.” Sound right for APA? Ya? Na, 7.5 out of 10.

But think about that quote for a second, my favorite part is that we do still believe the world to be a beautiful place. Otherwise we wouldn’t have chosen this career. While people are out there stabbing and shooting and running into or over each other in their cars, or maybe not even that extreme, maybe they are just out there not taking care of themselves, here we all sit, waiting in the hospital to take care of them. To heal them.

And ultimately we do it because, well, I want to believe we do it because, we believe in the sanctity of human life. That each of us deserves to be treated when we are sick, without fear of judgement, fear of excessive bills or fear of being turned away. That someone, anyone, will just listen to them, will understand them and will help them feel better. That someone is now you.

And that leads me to my final challenge, and it’s a big one: our horrifically broken healthcare system. Make no mistake, it is broken. And hopefully after this year of in depth education and now working on the front lines, you can see it that it is broken. There’s an old saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”… well, it’s broke and we need to fix it. So that leads us to how? How do we fix it?

Well, I am not really sure. But being idol is no longer an option for you. If you are one of those who doesn’t vote because you never have, your vote doesn’t count or you’ve never really been involved, unfortunately for you, that ends now. In your nursing career you will personally affect the lives of hundreds if not thousands of people. But a serious change in healthcare policy in this country will affect millions. And the beauty of the American system is that small local change does, sometimes, led to changes at the state level and then eventually national policy changes. But it takes time, it takes effort. So what can you do? Vote, firstly. In both local, state and national elections. Pay special attention to the politicians that are speaking of changes in healthcare. And the least favorite part, actually read and research how politicians have voted in the past. Anyone can get on a stage and promise real change, but those who have been fighting in the political system for true change, their voting record is public record, and you can see if their actions match their words.

So be involved. In local nursing organizations that are fighting for real change in both local and national policies. Might I suggest the Missouri League for Nursing, the Missouri Nursing Coalition or the Missouri Nurses Association?

Find a chapter. Go to meetings. Express your opinion, let people are you hear you voice and know that you stand for improving this system.

However small or minute it may seem, the 50+ nurses in this room could very easily sway or shift local even state policy over the next several years.

And finally, I would like to discuss the NCLEX. The test above all tests. For all the friends and family in the audience, surely you have heard of this test right…? And all I really have to say about it is this: don’t worry, you’re gonna do fine. Or you won’t, and you’ll take it again, and then you’ll be fine.

I said this time and time again during this program: numbers on a screen do NOT represent your intelligence.

There are a multitude of strategies for taking a computer adaptive test such as the NCLEX, my advice, find one that works for you and prepare yourself. I for one have a personal goal of doing at least 1000 practice questions before taking it. I suggest you do the same. As far as when you go to test, spit out your gum, take of your hat and remember: the answer is right in front of you, you just gotta find it.

Unfortunately, my time here is up. So I would like to end with one last quote, another one from Kurt Vonnegut, sorry, he’s one of my favs.

Vonnegut once said:
“Our aim is to make the world more beautiful than it was when we came into it. It can be done. You can do it--love yourself”

Thank you very much and congratulations to everyone.

Graduate class photo, nursing students standing and seated while proudly wearing white lab coats