Class of 2020: 96 Nursing Students In a Class By Themselves

As a pandemic strikes, CCP Nursing grads share tales of resilience

In the year that novel coronavirus changed life as we know it in this city, Community College of Philadelphia graduated 96 Nursing students, many of whom overcame unthinkable odds while still in school.

The Nursing Class of 2020 faced heartbreak, job loss, the loss of siblings and/or parents, COVID-19 and other monumental challenges. Three members of the class, many of whom were working jobs as licensed practical nurses (LPNs) or aides in nursing homes or health facilities, tested positive for COVID-19 and completed classwork online while in quarantine.

During spring break, tragedy stuck. Janette Reyes, a popular classmate, was killed in a car accident, leaving her family and her peers heartbroken. With the help of a supportive faculty, every student who was in the class this spring completed the Nursing program.

There are 96 graduates in all, and, like past graduates, most are likely to end up with jobs in the city. Since opening its doors to students in 1965, CCP has produced more than 5,000 Nursing graduates.

The Nursing faculty, led by Dr. Tamika Curry, an assistant professor of Nursing, and Laureen Tavolaro-Ryley, the Independence Foundation Chair in Nursing, helped to organize an online celebration so the close community of learners could gather a final time to say their goodbyes.

Due to social distancing guidelines, CCP was unable to host its traditional nurses pinning ceremony, planned for May 1, 2020. That night, graduates partied apart, though together in spirit, with each contributing a favorite song, as they shared photos and poignant memories of the journey.

“We just wanted them to be connected,” Tavolaro-Ryley said. During the celebration, a number of people, including Mayor Jim Kenney; CCP President Donald Guy Generals; Phil Okala, Chief Operating Officer of the University of Pennsylvania Health System; the Rev. Dr. Lorina Marshall-Blake, president of the Independence Blue Cross Foundation; and surprise guest, James Poyser of Legendary Roots Crew, offered congratulations.

Here are a few of the graduates stories of resilience:

Natalya ZuyevychNatalya Zuyevych lost a job, had a baby and grieved the loss of a close relative while in the Nursing program. “I received my first degree at La Salle University, but I always dreamed of being a nurse, so I decided to go back to school. There have been so many ups and downs these last two years, the last six weeks have been especially difficult. When I started NursingSchool, I had a one year old and I was pregnant. I had a C-section and a week later had to be back in school because we had a written exam. Just the support of the teachers, my clinical instructors... everyone was so supportive in all of my difficult times, accommodating me so that I can nurse or pump during clinicals and other things. Just whoa, it was just such a journey.”


Lucas TorresLucas Torres was in the military while taking his classes, and his dad and his brother passed away within months of each other. “I started my nursing journey probably five years ago. I'm in the military, I mean, the front line of the military as well. When I'm in my first semester, I was in a motorcycle accident so I had to pause my whole schooling, which took some time. It took about a year to get back to health.

At the beginning of this semester, my father passed and my brother committed suicide, which kind of gave me more of a focus on the mental health, especially in the city and where I live. My brother was a police officer, so police officers and the military have high suicide rates. It kind of made me want to get into the psychiatric side of nursing, to really focus, help out and give back as much as I possibly can. The faculty took the time to assure me that I'm not alone, especially going through all the deaths in my family, and I really appreciate that.”

Lashaya EdgefieldLashaya Edgefield, a single mom with a daughter,  didn’t have a car so she juggled child care arrangements and classes, all  while relying on public transportation. Some days, she had to get her daughter to relatives, and then travel by public transportation to work..

“I started my journey in nursing some nine years ago as a certified nursing assistant,” she said. “At the time, I was a new mom. I was living in poverty, didn't have a job and didn't know what I wanted to do. I stumbled on the NewCourtland education center's CNA (certified nursing assistant) program, which was seven weeks long. So, I want to say thank you to CareerLink because they paid for that and now I'm here. I'm going to be a registered nurse. Raising a little girl while in Nursing school, that was tough. I didn't have a car. I don't know how I did it, but it got done. I also had to take the bus to my clinical sites and they were very strict.  So, I was in the dark, on my way to clinical, at 5:30 am in the morning.”

Jessica DorseyJessica Dorsey called the Nursing program “the hardest thing in my life so far.  It was tough. I had to work. Well, this week it's over 40 hours, so I'm trying to take all my exams and go to work, too. That was a little rough to do. I mean, right now, I'm struggling, trying to get my kid his education because he's home. I have to be his teacher and also be a student myself. I had to put everything aside for the most part, do whatever I can, and just try and keep my head in the game. But we’re done. I'm excited. I don't know, I guess I'm ready to finally be a mother again, finally be the wife that I was, focus on me and then move on to my bachelor's in the fall. I'll be going to the University of Ohio for my bachelor's degree.”