Somehow, the second year had raced by for all of us. As we approached the end of July we looked forward to a month long summer break. When we returned to the Residence at the end of August, we would face a week of final exams and then, the opening of an exciting new chapter in our nursing studies. Our Capping Ceremony, essentially a graduation event from second to third year, was a milestone ritual we eagerly anticipated. I also represented an emancipation in many ways. As third year students, we became almost RNs, free agents no longer supervised by a nursing Instructor, working independently in all areas of the hospital for an entire year, allowing us to consolidate our skills.
There were other very practical and appealing aspects of becoming a third year nursing student. In our Nursing School program, the first two years had been based in classroom instruction which laid the foundation for a final apprenticeship year. Third year students had a kind of student-plus status: we were entitled to work independently, in the capacity of a fully functioning team member of the hospital’s nursing staff. As such, we would also be paid as if we were real nurses. Of course, our pay cheques were significantly less than our RN team members, but $250 per month was adequate for obtaining an apartment off site! Third year nursing students were privileged to move out of the Nurses Residence and live as independent adults. The House Mother, the rules, the shared living accommodations and communal bathrooms would become a thing of the past. We would be free… at last.
Another kind of freedom, while symbolic, also accompanied our transition from second to third year students. The Capping Ceremony relieved us of several mandatory articles of our uniform which we students unanimously considered hideous. The blue beanie of our cap, the nude coloured stockings, and the despised old-fashioned black shoes were the thorns finally to be removed from our sides. At long last, we were going to look like real nurses.
Our Big Sisters, students one year ahead of us, had talked about their Capping Ceremony in great detail, but as the date approached, it remained a largely nebulous concept to us. Part of its magic arose from its exclusivity: only second year students were invited to attend. We’d never even had an opportunity to sneak a peek at what went on during the ceremony, so regardless of the information our Big Sisters had passed on to us, it was more like text book information than something we’d seen or experienced. The evening ceremony, as it turned out, was steeped in ritual. Conducted by candle light, in otherwise total darkness in the social room in the basement of the Residence, and with yellow roses adorning the room, it was indeed, a magical event. On arrival, each of us was greeted by a Nursing Instructor who presented us with an unlit white candle and directed us to our seats facing the podium. Dressed in our navy uniforms, we walked proudly, straight and tall, wearing white hose and white nursing shoes for the first time in two years. It was an incredible feeling to shed the past two years of ugliness.