You've seen one graduation, you've seen 'em all - right?
The staccato flicker of digital flashbulbs, guys tugging on their fresh-pressed slacks and women adjusting flowing dresses clinging to polyester gowns. The painted-on smiles and the talk of hope, expectation and the future.
All those elements were present Tuesday afternoon at the Carson City Community Center as some 49 students from throughout Northern Nevada and parts of Northern California were on hand to celebrate a traditional nurse "pinning" ceremony.
But something was a little different.
Yes, there was the palpable nervous anticipation of graduates. Yes, families were on hand to give and receive cheer for their support. Yes, cut flowers were given to each graduate along with a certificate and a promise of "never having to be out of a job again."
But there was something else.
That something was explained by audience member Alice Busenlehner, RN, a 2007 graduate of the WNC nursing program, who was at the ceremony Wednesday to support former classmate and current friend, Ann Bratton.
"I think there's still a lot of expectation and a lot of work ahead and these (graduates) know it," said Busenlehner. "Not that this isn't a great occasion and the culmination of hours and hours of hard work.
"But, on this day, you realize from here on out - it gets real. All that practice and you're about to enter the real world. There's excitement, but also a lot of trepidation."
Indeed, the 2008 graduates are now eligible to sit for the national exam to become registered nurses. Several already have job offers at local hospitals, but the learning curve is steep from this point, acknowledged Wednesday's emcee, Judith Cordia, Ed.D., RN, the chair of WNC's nursing program.
During her welcome address, Cordia compared nurse graduation to "holding the elevator."
"When you say 'hold the elevator', it makes everyone stop and pause," she said. "It's a moment to recognize how far you've come.
"And you guys are going up."
Class president William Sneed continued the sentiment, saying that many of his classmates don't know exactly what's in store on the road ahead - acknowledging at the same time how far they, as a collective, have come:
"When 60 of us met in an auditorium for the first time two years ago - we were strangers," he said. "Now (we're) a surrogate family.
"Through marriage, divorce, engagement, pregnancy, child care, death threats, new jobs, death of parents, communicable diseases, broken bones and broken hearts - we made it."
Sneed teared up when he faced his graduating peers for a final moment and then turned back to the audience.
"All of you, you supported all of us and made this success possible."
Perhaps because of Sneed's emotional lead, the speakers that followed also chose to mention the not-always-easy professional road ahead for nurses - a decidedly different tone for a challenging career, according to Cheryl Moreland, RN, an instructor at WNC: "The uniform has changed, the curriculum has become more complex, but the profession is in you," Moreland said.
Or, simply put, it's just a "demanding, long road," according to Eric Maliska, whose wife, JoAnne, was on stage, ready to start her new life at Barton Memorial Hospital near the couple's home in South Lake Tahoe.
"I can't tell you how hard they work," he said. "It's a sacrifice and it's a demanding job. But these are dedicated people."