Commencement ceremonies for 39 graduates of Conemaugh School of Nursing on Wednesday at 1st Summit Arena marked the school’s 125th anniversary.

The new nurses join more than 4,100 who have completed the program since the school opened in 1896.

Twenty-four of the graduates have committed to join the Conemaugh Health System.

This year’s graduating class was midway through the first year of the two-year program when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, upending the way medical care is delivered.

“I am so proud of the way our graduate nurses persevered throughout this difficult time,” school Director Bonnie Mazurak-Riga said. “In addition to their strong academic and skills-based training, they were an integral part of our response to COVID-19 and our vaccination clinics in the community.

“They are our nation’s next generation of healthcare superheroes, and we are so fortunate that they have responded to the calling at this critical time in our history.”

The following graduates were recognized with special awards at the program:

• Alexis Brown received the Meyer & Sally Bloom Class Valedictorian Award. A native of Ebensburg native, Brown is a Blacklick Valley High School graduate. She completed her nursing training with a 3.57 grade-point average and has accepted a position at Wellspan Ephrata Community Hospital in Lancaster County. Brown also received the Sally Jordan Nursing Leadership & Management Award, which honors a student for leadership.

• Brittany Brydon, of Salix, received the Elaine E. Behe & William L. Hughes Class Salutatorian Award and the Outstanding Student Nurse Award. Brydon is a Forest Hills High School graduate who earned a 3.55 grade-point average at the nursing school. She is joining Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center’s critical care team.

• Ruth Hight received the Karen Walker Stringent Communication & Health Teaching Award, which recognizes a student who consistently models effective communication and teaching behaviors to maintain the sensitivity, value and respect of others.

A graduate of Blair County Christian School, Hight plans to relocate to North Carolina to practice nursing.

• Emmalee Dull received the Evelyn Frye/Boyd Lingenfelter Humanitarian Award, which recognizes a student who consistently models compassion, competence, and humanitarian care. A Bishop McCort Catholic High School graduate, Dull is joining Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center’s palliative care team.

• Olivia Letzo, a Westmont Hilltop High School graduate, received the Margaret Nestor Student Services Award for outstanding contributions to the growth and welfare of the school, student body and community and the Nursing Spirit of the Pink Cross Award for professionalism. Letzo will join her mother, Carmen Letzo, as a nurse in critical care at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center.

Several of the awards were provided through the 1889 Foundation.

Randy Griffith is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5057. Follow him on Twitter @PhotoGriffer57.

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