TSN 12: The Capping Ceremony

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The author being capped

Another truly beautiful symbol of our third year status was the School’s signature nursing ring, a flat, oval, gold face etched with the raised figure of Hygeia, the goddess of health. As third year students we were allowed to wear this ring while working in the hospital and wearing our updated uniforms. My parents had bought me the ring as a gift for my Capping Ceremony. It was a precious gift; the emotional attachment I felt for that ring never faded. I wore it on my left pinky finger throughout my entire third year and every day thereafter. It remains there to this day, nearly fifty years later.

There was one more deliciously anticipated, though non-sanctioned ritual, we second year students had looked forward to. Our Big Sisters had entertained us for weeks with details of the afternoon ritual which immediately preceded the Capping Ceremony. No one knew when it had begun, or for how many years it had been repeated, but the adage of out with the old and in with the new was given life every year on Capping Day. A time-honoured tradition, the entire class of second year student nurses made their way to the foot of the Ambassador Bridge, soaring over the Detroit River, and took off their despised, black shoes. Walking jubilantly in bare feet while hooting, hollering and carrying those offensive black granny boots aloft over their heads, they rejoiced with the drivers of passing cars who honked their horns in approval of whatever it was that these young women were doing.  Carefully negotiating their way up the Bridge’s sidewalk, adjacent to southbound traffic flowing into Ontario, our Big Sisters said they’d reached the zenith of the Bridge at the precise location where Ontario meets Michigan.  Once every student had arrived, a cheer went up and all those black shoes were simultaneously launched high into the air over the side of the Bridge, and down into the murky waters of the Detroit River, fifty feet below. It was a drowning of sorts, of the odious black footwear we’d never again be required to wear: an ending fit for a new beginning.

We’d spent innumerable evenings in the Residence over the last few weeks, going over our plans for our non-sanctioned walk and toss ritual at the Bridge. As each day brought us closer to Capping Day, our absolute dedication to proceed with the ritual grew. We were at least as excited about this event as small children are about waiting for Santa Claus. It was like waiting for the plum pudding of Christmas dinners: we almost salivated at the thought of destroying our shoes. We had paid our dues, had waited for two years for our turn, and now we were entitled to enjoy the reward. There were no outliers, no hesitants, no goody-goody classmates who objected to participation in the ritual. We were ready.

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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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