By HEATHER NELLIS
Recorder News Staff
JOHNSTOWN -- Ever since she was a little girl, Laura Lewis has been a caretaker.
"I love taking care of people. When I was a kid, I took care of my brothers and sisters. It's always come naturally to me," said the 25-year-old.
After 1,200 hours of classes and clinical labs, Lewis and 18 other students on Wednesday took a big step toward fulfilling their inner call to help others.
They graduated from Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Board of Cooperative Educational Services' practical nursing program.
The two-year program sets the educational foundation so future nurses can seek state board certification.
"It brings our graduates one step closer to their new career choice," said program Administrative Coordinator Michael DiMezza during Wednesday's ceremony. "Graduates, thank you for choosing to be a nurse. Thank you for choosing to be the assistance that many of us in this room may come to rely on at some point in our lives."
HFM-BOCES Board of Education President Robert Townsend reminded the graduates that not everyone is suited for such work.
"Our community is very fortunate to have individuals like you, who are willing to dedicate yourselves, your time, your profession, to serving others. There aren't too many people who want to go through that to serve others. So you are extremely special people we all may take advantage of at sometime in our lives."
Townsend remarked how technological and pharmaceutical advances have extended the average life expectancy, driving up the need for health care professionals.
"While the medications, surgeries, and technologies heal the body, you as a nurse heals the heart, the soul and the mind. The dedication you have demonstrated in this program will benefit many people in the years to come. We sincerely thank you for who you are, and wanting to serve mankind," Townsend said.
Susan Roth, the program's head instructor, is retiring this year after 25 year career with HFM-BOCES.
"Thank you for believing that not only could you make a difference, but that our graduates could as well," DiMezza said.
The graduating class also honored its retiring instructor. Graduate David Nicholas referred to her as "the glue that held us all together."
"A good teacher is a calling, and teachers are meant to be angels who bring their flocks out of the darkness," Nicholas said. "Mrs. Roth is that kind of teacher."
Students Sally Romano, Jamie Hayes and Melissa Morrison brought leopard-print ribbons for each student to wear in honor of Roth's favorite pattern.
Several graduates were honored for their diligence and compassionate care.
* Lewis and Laurie Bates were tied for the highest overall grade averages. Bates also received the Theodora Pifko Higgins Memorial Award, and Lewis won the Thomas & Elizabeth McCormack Memorial Award.
* Sally Romano received both the most professional student award and the Dr. Joseph P. Giardino Memorial Award. The award is given in recognition of a student nurse who excelled in the pediatric lessons.
* David Nicholas received the Tara M. Giardino Memorial Award in honor of a student nurse who was successful in the material/child lessons.
* Kelly Flewelling and Melissa Morrison received the Head, Hands & Heart Awards.
* Nicole Sheldon received the Nathan Littauer Hospital Award.
* Jennifer Rowe received the St. Mary's Healthcare Wilkinson Residential Health Care Facility Award.
* BillieJo Baird received the Lexington ARC Award.
* Amanda Meredith was awarded the Mountain Valley Hospice Award.
The remaining graduates include Rachel Congdon, Miki Goodspeed, Magdalena Hernandez, Keeley Horan, Marjory LaBadia, Valerie Rosenzweig, Jennifer Rowe, Robin Russell, Gabrielle Sanders and Nicole Sheldon.