As she addressed other new nurses at Aiken Technical College's pinning ceremony Monday, valedictorian Sarah Clarke described the journey she shared with her husband and family and with her other family – all the nursing students who supported each over the past two years.

“This experience has changed me in a way I didn't think was possible,” Clarke said of the celebrations for their victories and the nurses' efforts to keep each other motivated after setbacks.

The ceremony was especially emotional for the nurses, the faculty and other ATC administrators. Most are non-traditional students who returned to school.

The nursing pin the nurses received dates back to 1880 and represents a dedication to service and loyalty, said Hermecender Walton of the Health Sciences Department.

“Wear your pins with pride,” she said. “We salute you on this great accomplishment.”

Sabrina Flanders served as the salutatorian for the class, while Sherrell Sizemore was presented with the “Tradition of Caring” award by faculty member Robin Herrin.

Sizemore was 29 years out of school before enrolling at ATC. Her daughter, April Babb, has been a registered nurse at University Hospital for the past decade. Sizemore had worked as a certified nursing assistant for six years.

“She has been my inspiration,” Sizemore said of her daughter. “I hope I can work with her and have lunch together. I started on this journey four years ago, and I'm still numb and in shock. It really hasn't hit me yet.”

The other new nurses, who received their degrees Tuesday, are as follows: Rachel Baker, Chiquita Beard, Virginia Blount, Dammion Butler Sr., Rene Campbell, Kianna Curtis, Cheyenne Douglas, Hannah Feagin, Mallory Harmon, Caryletta Jones, Amanda Junkins, Nirmaljeet Kaur, Mary Killeen, Emily Kneece, Jennifer Livingston, Michelle Lott, Kimberly Robinson, Jovanii Rodriguez-Sanchez, Elizabeth Snipes, Lauren Steele, Bethanie Teuton, Laverne White, Ryan Williams and Nikki Wright.

Harmon put together a slide show of the students and their families “to recognize the unsung heroes,” she said. “You have been beside us, cheering us on.”

David Clarke found his wife Sarah after the ceremony and embraced her.

“I'm so proud of all the effort she put in,” he said. “I had no doubt in my mind about her ability.”

Dammion Butler Jr., 9, stood to the side of the stage, waiting with a big grin as his dad walked down the steps after receiving his diploma. As a single parent, Butler said, it meant so much to see his son so happy.

“I just needed to make a change,” he said. “I like helping people and just wanted to do what I love. Now, we can transform our lives and go with the process.”

• Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.