Yale School of Nursing Class of 2024 Saluted as Teachers, Allies, Champions

June 28, 2024
  • YSN faculty, students, and staff at Yale University's 2024 commencement ceremony.
  • YSN faculty, students, and staff at Yale University's 2024 commencement ceremony.
  • YSN faculty, students, and staff at Yale University's 2024 commencement ceremony.
  • YSN faculty, students, and staff at Yale University's 2024 commencement ceremony.
  • YSN faculty, students, and staff at Yale University's 2024 commencement ceremony.
  • YSN faculty, students, and staff at Yale University's 2024 commencement ceremony.
  • YSN faculty, students, and staff at Yale University's 2024 commencement ceremony.
  • YSN faculty, students, and staff at Yale University's 2024 commencement ceremony.
  • YSN faculty, students, and staff at Yale University's 2024 commencement ceremony.
  • YSN faculty, students, and staff at Yale University's 2024 commencement ceremony.
  • YSN faculty, students, and staff at Yale University's 2024 commencement ceremony.
  • YSN faculty, students, and staff at Yale University's 2024 commencement ceremony.
  • YSN faculty, students, and staff at Yale University's 2024 commencement ceremony.
  • Graduating YSN students enter the Shubert Theatre in New Haven
  • YSN faculty, students, and staff at Yale University's 2024 commencement ceremony.

Saluted as outstanding teachers, allies, and champions during Yale School of Nursing (YSN)’s 98th commencement on May 20, the nurses and midwives of the Class of 2024 celebrated the institution’s centennial year while reflecting on how to best advance the school’s mission of better health for all people.

Yale School of Nursing Dean Azita EmamiDean Azita Emami PhD, MSN, BSN, RNT, RN, FAAN gave her first YSN commencement address and had inspiring words for the  future members of the nation’s most trusted profession.

“You are the nurse-leaders who will change and shape healthcare,” Dean Emami said. “You will lead the way in creating a healthcare system with better access and better health for all people.

“You will be the clinicians, executives, researchers, managers, and leaders of organizations that promote wellness and improve health across the lifespan. I hope you will draw inspiration from all the remarkable, bold, and brave nurses who have gone before you.”  

Commencement Speaker Ben Danielson, MD

Dr. Ben DanielsonHealth equity advocate Dr. Ben Danielson, professor of practice at the University of Washington, saluted the graduates as teachers, allies, and champions during the diploma ceremony at the Shubert Theatre in downtown New Haven. He shared his admiration for nurses and midwives through the themes of gratitude, wisdom, struggle, and love.

“You taught me that technically proficient care without careful listening, without human dignity, fell short of our obligation of service,” Dr. Danielson said. “You taught me. You tried to show me. You kept on teaching me to aspire to the qualities that your profession has steeped you with. I am beholden to you.”

In addition to quotidian examples, Dr. Danielson also shared how nursing colleagues supported him during a pivotal professional moment.

“When I faced a crucial moment in my professional career, when I could no longer tolerate the racism raining down from the children’s hospital I worked for in Seattle, causing great harm to the Black community I hold beloved. When I could not abide the lack of sincere response, or the insincere change, when all that happened, it was you who stood beside me.”

On the hard work of gaining wisdom throughout a career and a lifetime, Dr. Danielson quoted Albert Einstein, who said that the measure of intelligence is the ability to change.

“Every brilliant person I’ve ever known has learned more from things called failure than from experiencing uninterrupted success,” he said. “Missteps, failures, mistakes, these are the most crucial ingredients of intelligence if you learn from them. If you accept them and allow them to change the way you do things.

Admiring the graduates as champions for the wellbeing of anyone who struggles, Dr. Danielson cited bell hooks: 

“Our struggles must continue to recognize and support the struggles of others. One’s own liberation cannot be at the expense of another’s liberation. This is the real path out of struggle and toward liberation. Because when our actions come at the expense of other’s liberation then we aren’t eliminating oppression, we’re just moving it around.”

Dr. Danielson vividly recalled the lessons of love he received from nurse practitioner Liz Thomas, whom he described as the pride, the heart, and the guiding auntie of the local Black community at the clinic where they worked together.

“Maybe you know a Liz,” Dr. Danielson said. “Maybe you are a Liz.  Maybe you know somebody whose guiding spirit is with you right now.”

Drawing on bell hooks’s description of love as an action and not only a feeling, he described the students as embodiment of the emotion.

“If we really listen, if we heed bell hooks, then you are love. Your path holds the footprints of this action word called love. You are love. A love you that brought with you when you entered this school and the love that has been described and built into your training here. You are love. A love that goes with you wherever you go. The loving generations that brought you to this moment, remind me that there is so much more good in this world than bad.

“We are truly honored to be together today. Really honestly together. We’re not that far away from that pandemic time when this was not possible. And we know how it feels, viscerally, to be in community, in loving community. That’s the kind of power that can heal the world. Love.”

Student Speaker KellyAnn Rooney ’24 MSN

KellyAnn RooneyThe two student speeches this year  highlighted how the first days of an advanced practice nursing journey at YSN could ultimately lead to  a doctoral degree. Representing the Graduate Entry Pre-Specialty in Nursing (GEPN) program and the progress through two specialty years, pediatrics graduate KellyAnn Rooney ’24 MSN titled her speech “Flying.”

“I remember the first time I put on my YSN scrubs,” Rooney said. “I had just moved back to Connecticut, was in my brand-new apartment right outside of New Haven, bright eyed, so eager, and so proud of myself. Getting to this point in my life was a long road filled with hard work and growth and I was so happy that I’d made it. I couldn’t stop smiling, looking at myself in the mirror with that pink crest on my chest.” 

“Now, not to be too dramatic, but it was not long at all until GEPN year knocked that smile right off my face. It was hard and humbling and unlocked new anxieties in me that I didn’t even know existed. I know not every one of us did a GEPN year but I’m sure you can all remember those first few weeks of nursing clinical where you knew a scary – almost reckless – amount of nothing. But we did it! We introduced ourselves to patients! We gave bed baths! We took blood pressures! We helped with procedures – some of us (not me) even managed to do it without passing out! It was a triumph.  

Despite all the difficult moments, Rooney said she knew it was worth it. And thanks to a special faculty member, she knew she was ready for whatever comes next.

“Finally, I would like to leave you all with a quote. This was a text I received from one of my preceptors and our beloved Pedi[atrics] faculty member, Elyse Borsuk, on my last day of clinical with her. It was an expression of confidence that I will take with me into this next chapter and beyond – and one I hope you will, too. Her message read: ‘You, my friend, are ready to fly.’ ” 

Student Speaker Daileann Hemmings ’24 DNP

Daileann HemmingsIn her speech titled, “In Just Moments, Tomorrow Will Be Today,” Dr. Hemmings spoke powerfully about arriving in the United States from Jamaica at two  years old and surpassing her parents’ wildest dreams as a first-generation college student who now holds a doctoral degree.

In addition to congratulating her classmates for persevering through the pandemic together, bound by shared experience (and data chunking), Dr. Hemmings also encouraged the crowd to take action that will advance the school’s mission of better health for all people.

“Covid has raised an awareness of persistent health disparities,” Dr. Hemmings said. “We are all agents of change and must engage in work to create the difference we wish to see. Remember, we do not need ‘equity’ or ‘DEIB’ in our title for humility to inform the work that we do.  

“Class of 2024, our time is now. I leave you with this. In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, in response to clergymen who believed his actions weren’t properly timed, wrote ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’  

“With that I say, let us continue to be impactful, disrupt unjust status quos, and be strengthened by the power that lies within collaborations, that elevates the lives of the people we serve and this world. Let’s not wait!” 

Regalia and Procession

Early in the school’s first century, the YSN faculty chose the color apricot as the perfect shade of velvet for the regalia hoods that signify a master’s degree. In a nod to the centennial year, students also wore satin stoles as part of their regalia, a project spearheaded by the student representative on the centennial committee, pediatric nurse practitioner – primary care specialty graduate Melissa Galinato ’24 MSN.

Acute care nurse practitioner graduate and Student Government Organization President Zoe Che ’24 MSN and adult gerontology - primary care nurse practitioner graduate Kyle Durand ’24 MSN represented the Master of Science in Nursing program as student marshals. Healthcare Leadership, Systems, and Policy student Mandy Richards ’24 DNP represented the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Program.

Pediatric nurse practitioner – primary care graduate Anna McClean ’24 MSN served as the student banner bearer, and family nurse practitioner specialty lecturer Michelle Kennedy, MSN, APRN, FNP-BC served as the faculty marshal.

Retiring Helen Varney Professor of Midwifery Holly Powell Kennedy, PhD, CNM, FACNM, FAAN, led the procession as the grand marshal. This prestigious honor recognizes a faculty member’s outstanding contributions to their profession throughout the course of their career.

Lindsey Watters ’24 MSN – The Charles King, Jr. Memorial Scholars Aid Prize

Lindsey Watters receives an awardThis prize is given annually at Commencement to the graduating student who is deemed one of the leading graduating students in the class, who has demonstrated outstanding performance in scholarship, research, and clinical practice and who, through accomplishments in and leadership of all aspects of study, inspires others. 

Lindsey Watters ’24 MSN has consistently shown leadership acumen at YSN, whether taking the lead on a project everyone else declined, to helping address student concerns amongst faculty members. In addition to her usual coursework, Watters facilitated her own research project at NYU to explore health-related quality of life and energy in pre and postmenopausal women to identify disparities seen amongst African American woman.  

Gustavo T. Herrera ’25 DNP – The Milton and Anne Sidney Prize

Gustavo T. HerreraThis award is given annually at Commencement to the graduating student who, in the judgment of the faculty, best exemplifies the school’s commitment to clinical research and its mission to contribute to better health for all people. The recipient must demonstrate creative clinical scholarship in the conceptualization of the problem under study, methodological and analytical competence, and excellence in writing.  

Gustavo T. Herrera ’24 DNP is a pediatric acute care nurse practitioner, caring for children in need of a liver transplant. His interest in helping to reduce implicit bias and structural inequities in the care of these children inspired his DNP project, which he centered on improving pediatric psychosocial assessment in this population with the aim of reducing the implicit bias that may be present in the delivery of care. 

The results of the student’s work involved an increase in transplant candidacy in those children who received the improved protocol from 70% to 100%. This means that rather than only 14 of the 20 children getting listed for transplant, all 20 children were listed. The project contributed to translational science and best practices in a novel way by not only improving general pediatric assessment in liver transplant services, but also by addressing social determinants of health, bias, and resulting health inequities.  

Sarah Hassan ’24 MSN – The Heather Dawn Reynolds Equity Award

Sarah HassanThis honor was first awarded in 2021 and is named for its inaugural recipient, who is an alumna and YSN’s student equity coordinator. 2024 honoree Sarah Hassan ’24 MSN is recognized as a kind, empathetic, and focused student who doesn’t often speak up in class, so when she does there’s a very good reason. 

During a class last year when a guest speaker incited a disrespectful and non-inclusive conversation Hassan stood up and quickly and eloquently shut down the speaker’s comments using a “call in” approach, acknowledging the speaker’s humanity and expertise but also respectfully requiring a different standard of behavior.

Nicole Langan Maciejak ’06 MSN – Annie Goodrich Award for Excellence in Teaching

Nicole Langan MaciejakNamed for YSN’s inaugural leader and the first female dean at Yale University, the Annie Goodrich Award recognizes a faculty member who carries on the tradition of exceptional nursing education, empathy, and concern for all. 

Pediatrics lecturer Nicole Langan Maciejak ’06 MSN, APRN, CPNP-PC was described by one nominator as “extremely mindful of ensuring that her teaching reflects the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion. She uses and models inclusive language in all her lectures, she mindfully corrects people when they present ideas that contain microaggressions, and she is intentional about including information about biases against historically oppressed populations.” 

The nominator goes on to say: “This person is … an incredible role model, and more than a few of us have independently articulated that we want to be like them when we grow up!” 

Remembering Pediatrics Faculty Member Elyse Borsuk

Elyse BorsukChair of the MSN Program Alison Moriarty Daley ’94 MSN, PhD, APRN, PPCNP-BC, FAAN took a moment during the ceremony to remember pediatrics lecturer Elyse Borsuk ’90 MSN, who died suddenly on March 31 due to an acute illness.

“Throughout the school, Professor Borsuk’s students admired her guidance, wisdom, home baked goods, and genuine care for their growth and development. Her academic colleagues cherished her kindness, camaraderie, and unwavering support.  

During Nurses week last year, Professor Borsuk answered the question: What is the hardest part about being a nurse and why is it worth it anyway? She responded, ‘The hardest part about being a nurse, sometimes, is separating our professional life from our personal life. It is hard not to become invested in our patients and not worry about them at the end of the day. On the other hand, I wouldn’t have it any other way. As a PNP, I have been fortunate to have worked in my current practice for almost 25 years. I have seen that impact the care I have offered, in that now I am seeing the children of some of the patients that I had the privilege to care for.’ ” 

Dr. Moriarty Daley announced that the annual preceptor award will be named for Planning the preceptor recognition event was one of Professor Borsuk’s final projects. The 2024 event will take place on June 13.

Want More on the Class of 2024?

Read a dozen profiles of our graduating students, spanning GEPN and RN-entry through DNP, plus check out advice from six decades of YSN alumni as part of our comprehensive coverage.

To view keynote, administrator, and student speeches at the YSN diploma ceremony at the Shubert Theatre, please visit the YSN YouTube channel or watch the embedded video below.

For more university-wide coverage of Yale’s 323rd commencement ceremony, read the annual recap in YaleNews.