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Class of nurses graduate from GTC

Staff Photo: Tyler Estep. Graduate Felix Felix receives his pin during Wednesday's "pinning ceremony" for the inaugural graduates of Gwinnett Technical College's associate degree in nursing program.

Staff Photo: Tyler Estep. Graduate Felix Felix receives his pin during Wednesday's "pinning ceremony" for the inaugural graduates of Gwinnett Technical College's associate degree in nursing program.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Grace Pruitt Morgan will not be graduating with her Gwinnett Technical College classmates today. The former member of the school's inaugural class of associate degree nursing graduates was forced to take a break in her studies after being diagnosed with cancer.

Teary-eyed, Morgan gave her well wishes to the class at its Wednesday pinning ceremony.

"Today we celebrate the ending of one journey and the beginning of another," she said from the stage, openly weeping. "It is my pleasure tonight to share with my colleagues history in the making."

The ceremony -- a tradition among nursing schools and programs -- at Gwinnett Tech's Busbee Center marked the beginning of the end of study for 31 students who are the first to complete the college's associate degree program in nursing.

After passing the National Council Licensure Examination, they'll be qualified to work as registered nurses. With 850 initial applicants, 40 were chosen to join the first class when it began in 2009.

"Their journeys have not been easy," Dr. Kim Hudson-Gallogly, the program's director, said, outlining the struggles many students persevered.

"Many suffered losses, and endured them. One lost her husband. One lost her sister. Divorces, unemployment, life-threatening diseases. Single-motherhood and lack of transportation. Those are just the struggles we know about."

Ages among the classmates ranged from 22 to 58, and some 50 children were being raised during their studies.

They were given the opportunity when Gwinnett Tech suspended its nursing diploma program after the Georgia Board of Nursing granted the degree program developmental approval in 2009.

With the opening of the school's new Life Sciences Center this fall, Gwinnett Tech will be able to double the size of future nursing classes.

"Although I know you are very happy this day has come," instructor Dr. Catherine Scholz said with a grin, "you are nowhere near the end of your learning experience."