When Cassandra Parry arrived at Aiken Technical College at 17 to begin nursing school, she had never been in a traditional classroom with other people.

She had been home-schooled, graduating at 16, and “I was terrified,” Parry said on Monday.”I never thought I would make it through the first semester.

Now all of 20, she was recognized as the department's valedictorian during the Department of Nursing's pinning ceremony for those completing their Associate in Applied Science Nursing degrees. Parry's experiences turned out to be amazing, as she was lifted and supported so much by her classmates.

“They are now my second family,” she said during a short speech. “We never gave up.”

ACT hosts the pinning ceremony for its nursing graduates every year; the formal graduation for all students will be held today.

Three faculty members – Shonna Myers, Melissa Knight and Katie Brown – participated in the pinning ceremony. When all the graduates received a pin, Myers cited their own words about their drive to finish their coursework and about the support of their families and friends. Jennifer Goode received warm and enthusiastic applause when she was announced as the winner of the “Tradition of Caring,” award – voted by her friends for her kindness and support.

The other graduates include: Stephanie Allen, Megan Barden, Dawn Brantley, Jamilee Brown, Miranda Burke, Evelyn Chaney, Rebecca Chavis-Zorn, Kathryn Cherry, Kelsey Church, Jennifer Dawson, Daniela Del Valle, Stephanie Dixon, Jennifer Edwards, Ashley Eubanks, April Hall, Natasha Hammell, Kayleigh Harris, Marguerite Ivey, Neven Konjikusic, Terresa Norton Land, Christopher McCrickard, Casey Minson, Rebecca Neely, LaToya Pope, Tara Reeder, Taryn Rickerson, Melody Rollo, Jennifer Salmon, Monique Sapp Howell, Michelle Schutts, Megan Shuford, Connie Simmons, Sonja Still and Elizabeth Webb.

The ATC President Dr. Susan Winsor expressed her pride in the students' perseverance in attaining the field of nursing that “You deserve our respect and admiration.”

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter.