TSN 12: The Capping Ceremony

Abruptly, two days before capping and just as we finished writing an exam in the classroom, our Director announced to the class that the tradition of throwing shoes off the Bridge had to end. She had been displeased with the students' antics for the past several years arguing that they had cast a bad light on the school, and by extension, on the hospital. As of this date, she declared, we were forbidden from going to the Bridge to discard our shoes.  Her demeanor made it clear there was no avenue for appeal, no basis for discussion, and no exception. As she turned to leave the room, I felt the sting of tears in my eye. How could she deny us this? Hadn't we already spent two years obeying every demand? Hadn't we earned the privilege?

The entire class sat in stunned silence waiting for someone to speak. Cathy jumped up out of her chair and roared: "hey, what can she do to us if we go ahead with it anyway? We will be in third year next week, and every one of us is moving out of the Residence; we won't have to see her at all. We've already been assigned to our final year rotations. How could she explain to the hospital administration that not a single student would be coming to work in September? Think about it, you guys....she has no clout here. She's trying to scare us into backing down; as long as we stick together and every one of us does it, we'll be safe." One by one, each one of us looked around the room and saw the fire sparking in everyone else's eyes. I looked at Sandy and Karen, my soon-to-be apartment roommates, and with one single motion, we three got up and left the classroom. We spent all afternoon worrying about what to do. We wanted to toss our shoes over the Bridge, but weren't certain whether the rest of the class would become a cohesive unit in opposing the Director.

That evening at dinner, Cathy went from table to table asking each group of students what they were planning to do. Only Cathy knew what people were thinking and she said nothing. The next day, after our last exam, we gathered in the lounge area in the basement of the school. She challenged us to stand up for what we believed in. At that moment, murmuring began in the back of the room and got louder as people in other areas began to talk to each other. "All right then," she said. "Tomorrow afternoon we meet at the foot of the Bridge at 2 o'clock." There was a sense of resolve and cheerfulness in the crowd. "We're going to do it," I said to my friends, and with a mixture of surprise and eagerness on their faces, they agreed. "We sure are!" said Sandy with a wide grin.

The next day we all met in the basement at 1o'clock. By then we were filled with a sense of unity and purpose that we had never before shared. At this moment, twenty-four hours after her decree, we felt a communal outrage: we would not buckle under her threat. As we marched over the Bridge en masse to fling those damn shoes into the Detroit River, our indomitable group spirit was documented for the world to see! Our ringleader, Cathy, had contacted both the Windsor Star newspaper and the local radio station to cover this newsworthy event. A picture of our joyous defiance was "above the fold" in the next morning's newspaper.

Under the photo (below) the Windsor Star reporter wrote:

"You didn't really see 21 student nurses celebrating the end of the second year

of training by throwing away those horrid black shoes because the practical

powers-that-be frown on that kind of thing. They walk shoeless over the Bridge

...with a new sense of footloose freedom."

Photo from Windsor Star, late August, 1968

Photo from Windsor Star, late August, 1968. The author, 3rd row, top right corner, behind woman with dark hair and bangs.

The following week, all twenty-one of us began our third/apprenticeship year in the hospital. Not a single one of us heard another word from the Director about our Capping Day afternoon ritual.

Read more Tales of a Student Nurse stories!

author
Barbara Tiessen is a retired RN who lives with her husband in southwestern Ontario but winters in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. She researched her genealogy, wrote and self published The Schoenfeld Russlaender: A Mennonite Family's History in 2015. More recently her interest have focused on writing short stories.
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