“If it’s gonna be, it’s up to me.” Class of 2024 nursing graduates are called to make a difference

May 16, 2024

“Repeat after me. If it’s gonna be, it’s up to me! If it’s gonna be, It’s up to me!” With that resounding call and response, reminiscent of an old-time church service, internationally respected nurse scholar and community health engagement specialist Loretta Sweet Jemmott (PhD, RN, FAAN) reminded Rutgers School of Nursing Class of 2024 graduates of their personal responsibility in transforming health care to improve health and well-being for all. The 470 graduates — who received bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees– were feted at the school’s Convocation ceremony held May 16 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark.

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Jemmott described fond memories of the seven years she served as a nursing faculty member at Rutgers where she secured the school’s first RO1 grant from the National Institutes of Health.” Having started my academic career here and now returning to share in this momentous occasion, I am filled with gratitude and pride,” she said.

Today, Jemmott is a vice president and nursing professor at Drexel University, after retiring from a 20-year tenure at the University of Pennsylvania. A renowned translational researcher and community engagement specialist, she has received over $150 million in federal funding for her work.

“Remember that a Rutgers degree symbolizes excellence, innovation, and leadership in nursing. You are poised to make significant contributions to healthcare, armed with clinical expertise, leadership skills, and a commitment to compassionate care,” said Jemmott. “Remember this important thing: If it’s gonna be, it’s up to me! Repeat it with me. This powerful affirmation underscores your agency in shaping your destiny and making a positive impact on the world. . . As nurses, you’ll play a pivotal role in shaping the future of healthcare delivery, leveraging technology, telemedicine, and preventative care to improve patient outcomes and promote wellness. The possibilities for innovation and impact are boundless.”

Brian Strom (MD, MPH), chancellor of Rutgers Health, the university’s health sciences division, emphasized the critical role that nurses must play in addressing health disparities. “Health equity lies at the heart of our mission as health care providers. It is the principle that every person deserves the opportunity to attain their highest level of health,” said Strom. “Yet, we recognize that systemic barriers, including socioeconomic disparities, racial injustices, and unequal access to care continue to perpetuate health inequities in our communities. As nurses, you are uniquely positioned to confront these challenges head-on, and I know that here at Rutgers Health, we have prepared you to do so.”

In addition to celebrating the accomplishments of Rutgers School of Nursing’s newest graduates, the Convocation marked the 50th anniversary of the school’s Class of 1974. Seven class members attended the ceremony, including husband and wife classmates Donna and William McLean who married one week before their graduation.

The ceremony also included the presentation of New Jersey Health Foundation awards to two faculty members. Recognized for her prowess as an educator and mentor to graduate students, Associate Professor Irina Benenson (DNP, FNP-C ) received the NJHF Award for Teaching Excellence. Assistant Professor Beth Savage ( PhD, APN, CPNP, CPON) received the NJHF Award for Research Excellence recognizing her ongoing investigations of the socioeconomic factors and their impact on cancer treatment outcomes in children.

Karlene Sierra (DNP, CEN), received the Stanley Bergen Jr., MD Medal of Excellence, the highest student honor presented at Convocation. She is a new graduate of the Doctor of Nursing Practice program, where she earned a 4.0 GPA in the family nurse practitioner in emergency care specialty track. Holding the rank of lieutenant colonel, Sierra has served as a full-time, active-duty nurse in the U.S. Army for more than 16 years. She and her family are preparing to move to Fort Wainwright, Alaska for her new posting.

Presenting remarks on behalf of graduates earning advanced degrees, Sierra said “Let us step into our new roles with pride and assurance, knowing that through this community, we have been more than adequately equipped to continue the journey. . . So let us hold on to the tools that we developed, whether it was through our faith, family, therapy, dancing, or even going to crazy medical conventions. Let us remain humble and thirsty for knowledge and fight for that holistic view that we bring to the table because we do deserve a seat at that table!”

Rounding out the student speakers was Amy Breslin, who completed Rutgers School of Nursing’s pre-nursing to bachelor’s degree program located on the Blackwood campus of Camden County College. This “2 + 2” program is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

Breslin had served as president of the Blackwood Council of the Rutgers School of Nursing Student Senate. “Five years ago, I was a college dropout, working at a mortgage company, and raising three very young children. Standing in front of you today isn’t something I would have imagined in my wildest dreams,” she said. “After the loss of a very dear family member, I had the realization that I wanted to make a difference in the lives of patients and their families. At the age of 34, I finally knew what I wanted to be when I grew up and that was a nurse.”

Photo Album

Convocation 2024