RIVER FALLS — Kathleen Haroldson paused during her speech to her fellow nursing — associate degree graduates from the Chippewa Valley Technical College River Falls campus Dec. 18. She fought back some tears and composed herself before continuing, expressing special thanks to her husband and two grown children for their support through her time in college.
Her family was present at the River Falls Middle School auditorium where the nursing graduates held their annual pinning ceremony, accepting nursing pins unique to their school, a century-old tradition in the profession. All of the 19 graduates had friends and family present, including Zach Morth, who accepted his pin from his father, Dan Morth, a 2008 CVTC nursing — associate degree graduate.
The event turned out to be a family affair in many ways.
CVTC holds a separate commencement for its River Falls campus graduates in the spring, but with a much smaller class in December, the graduates are invited to the commencement ceremony at the Eau Claire campus. However, the nursing graduates, who comprise almost all of the December graduates from the campus, holds its formal pinning ceremony in River Falls.
The River Falls graduates were among 315 graduates in 38 programs honored at the commencement ceremony held at UW-Eau Claire's Zorn Arena. The largest program by far was nursing — associate degree with 91 graduates, followed by business management with 26. In addition, 10 students received their GED or high school equivalency diploma.
Haroldson, who lives with her family in Hudson, has been working as a medical assistant since 1988, most recently at Stillwater Medical Group. "I wanted to go back to school for my nursing degree, but it was never a good time, between raising kids and working," she said. "But then my employer offered tuition reimbursement, and I thought, is that a sign I'm supposed to do this now?"
Haroldson started taking classes in 2012, utilizing night and online offerings to work around her work schedule. Not having been in school for nearly 25 years made the task before her seem a little daunting.
"I couldn't have gotten through the math without my kids," Haroldson said. "My family has been my cornerstone."
Last summer, her son, Seth, took a statistics class with her, a course that was going to be useful in his future career plans. "Not many 18-year-old boys will sit next to their mother in a classroom," Haroldson said.
Her daughter, Marlee, enrolled in CVTC as well for her nursing prerequisites before transferring to a school in North Dakota.
Dan Morth, a career paramedic and currently the director of the ambulance service in Ellsworth, came to CVTC for his nursing degree, and when the time was right, encouraged his son, Zach, to follow in his footsteps.
"At that point, I was ready for it," Zach admitted, noting his life had lacked a solid career focus. "I really liked biology in high school and when I first started college, so nursing fit well. And my dad's a nurse, and he got me into it."
Plus, having a young son not quite a year old tends to focus one's mind on the future.
"I'm extremely proud of Zach," Dan said. "He's in a career that will provide lifelong opportunities."
The graduates were able to select the person who would pin the CVTC nursing pin on them at the ceremony, so of course Zach chose his dad. Many other graduates had sisters, parents, mentors and friends in the nursing profession pin them.
The commencement speaker at the Eau Claire ceremony was Tommy Davidson, owner of Dove Healthcare, which hires many CVTC nursing and other health care program graduates. His advice for the graduates: "Model the behavior you want in others, be what it is you want in your team, connect with your people, and involve your people as much as possible. Let them lead in an effort and support them."