The traditional pinning ceremony for nursing graduates has its roots in the 12th century, making it one of the longest and most storied traditions for any of today’s professions. Though this unique ceremony began with the 12th-century Crusades, today it serves as a modern indicator of academic achievement, dedication, and professional excellence. Nurses who take part in this ceremony are connected with many previous generations of nurses who delivered excellent care, moved the position forward, and transformed the lives of many.

Early Beginnings: A “Cross to Bear” on the Battlefield

The Crusades stand out as perhaps the most consistently violent period of time in European history, at least before the two World Wars that characterized the early 20th century. During the 12th century, a cross was given to knights who were dedicated to delivering battlefield care to injured soldiers. The crosses helped to mark these knights as the go-to individuals for medical treatment, and were large enough to be seen from quite a distance.

The tradition ebbed and flowed, and certainly evolved, over the next 600 years. By the mid-1800s, a Red Cross pin was given only to nurses who showed excellence in either academic theory or practical application of professional principles. This selective pin ceremony remained the norm from the mid-1800s through approximately 1912, when it was decided that all nursing students should receive a pin when they complete their education and enter into the profession as certified professionals.

The Modern Ceremony: Recognition of Dedication and Support

Today’s pin ceremonies are dedicated equally to nurses and the loved ones who support them. The tradition today focuses on recognizing the achievement of all students who have worked through a two-year or four-year nursing program. Toward the end of this program, nurses choose someone who inspired or supported them while they pursued this achievement. This person can be a parent, friend, relative, or instructor. When the pin ceremony takes place, that person accompanies the nursing student on stage, where the pin is officially given.

An academic representative of the nursing program (typically an academic dean or an individual nominated by the graduating class) hands out the pin to the person chosen by each nurse. One at a time, the nurse receives their pin from this individual. Today, this ceremony is meant to celebrate the link between classroom instruction, professional or personal support, and the achievement of earning a diploma in the nursing field.

Despite Occasional Protests, the Pin Ceremony Remains Important

Throughout history, there have been protests that the pinning ceremony was “too general” or that it was somehow a “shameful” tradition that had simply lived past its prime. Though these sentiments occasionally detract from the rite of passage itself, they hardly mean that the end of the pin ceremony is drawing near. In fact, these ceremonies continue to gain importance at today’s graduation ceremonies. The healthcare industry itself is growing by leaps and bounds, and the nursing profession is advancing at a potentially faster rate now than at any other time in history.

Because of nursing’s continued importance, and the unique way that this ceremony celebrates achievement, it’s likely that future generations will still look forward to receiving their pin. Parents and instructors have maintained the pinning ceremony as a great way to celebrate the academic excellence and professional determination that it takes to graduate from today’s fast-paced nursing degree programs.

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