Two students from the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing will represent their programs in front of all UAB graduates this month, as PhD student Jacqueline B. Vo, BSN, RN, and BSN student Jamie Long speak at the graduate and undergraduate commencement ceremonies, respectively.
Vo is the inaugural student speaker for the UAB Graduate School Doctoral Hooding Ceremony and Master’s Student Commencement, to be held Aug. 10.
Vo entered UAB as an undergraduate in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing Honors Program and has been mentored throughout her time in school by Professor and Associate Dean for Research Karen Meneses, PhD, RN, FAAN. Vo is now a National Cancer Institute Cancer Prevention Fellow and pursuing her Master of Public Health at Harvard University. Her time at UAB provided the tools and opportunities that guided her toward these accomplishments, Vo said, and she sees sharing that experience as a way to pay it forward.
“Everyone knows what a prestigious place UAB is, and the mentors and faculty are incredible. My mentor Dr. Karen Meneses believed in me as an undergraduate, and then as a PhD student. I would not be here without her guidance, support and mentorship. I believe hard work and perseverance, placed into passion, can lead to success,” Vo said. “I want to pave a path that others can follow, just as Dr. Meneses did for me.”
As a mentor, Meneses helped guide Vo’s academic career but also shared unforgettable life lessons with Vo. Meneses passed away suddenly in early August and Vo has decided to share a few of those lessons in her speech.
“For those who knew Dr. Meneses, I know they will see her personality reflected in these lessons. For those who did not have the opportunity to know her, I hope they will be able to carry a piece of her with them,” Vo said. “Just as Dr. Meneses inspires me, I hope her words can inspire other graduates.”
Vo said the support of Meneses, UAB School of Nursing faculty, its dean and others in the School created a sense of family that helped Vo thrive and become the first person in her extended family to get a PhD.
“It takes a village, and it took a village to get me here. It wasn’t an easy process, but it was so worth it,” Vo said. “My parents are beyond proud, and I think it says a lot for a woman who is also a minority and from the School of Nursing to be the first student speaker for this ceremony. I’m proud to showcase to the rest of the University what a strong program can do, and to share that message with the rest of the world.”
“One of the reasons we combined commencement for all graduate students – master’s educational specialist and doctoral – was to have the doctoral students receive their hoods in front of a larger audience and to inspire others to earn their PhD,” said UAB Graduate School Dean Lori McMahon, PhD. “Jacqueline Vo has been a terrific student and a great example for others, and we wanted to honor her by asking her to be our first student speaker. It’s inspirational for other graduating students to see one of their peers speak about their experiences, and I think having a student speaker will inspire the graduates and families in attendance and allow them to see what UAB students can achieve.”
At past doctoral hooding ceremonies, a faculty member was guest speaker.
Hearing from a fellow graduate can have a significant impact, Vo said, because students can see their own work and potential reflected in the speaker.
“It’s important to hear from faculty and the people who graduated before you, but it’s more relatable to hear from those who are graduating with you,” said Vo. “No matter our program or discipline, we’re all UAB students, and we did this hard work together. Now, we’re graduating together, and a student speaker gives the ceremony a sense of community.”
Jamie Long was nominated by the School to speak at undergraduate graduation. Prior to graduation, faculty and staff nominate students, and the one who best represents the student body is selected,” said Stephanie Hamberger, MPA, Director of Student Engagement, Recruitment and Scholarships in the School.
“Jamie is an active member of the School, always giving of both her time and compassion. She served as ambassador for the School of Nursing, representing our undergraduate students at many campus events. Her enthusiastic and engaged personality makes her a wonderful role model for her peers, and a good representative of the student body,” Hamberger said.
Undergraduate students have spoken at their graduation ceremonies for more a number of years.
Long serves as Undergraduate Student Government Association School of Nursing Senator, Student Nurses Association membership director, President of the Paranormal Research Society at UAB and President of the Alabama Student Rural Health Association. She always wondered how someone was chosen to speak at commencement. She got her answer when Hamberger emailed her.
“Mrs. Hamberger emailed me and said the School of Nursing had nominated me, and explained the process going forward of how selection happens,” said Long, who is graduating with honors from the BSN program. “I was really excited and my parents were really excited just to have the opportunity to be nominated. I never dreamed I’d be selected.”
After a few weeks of waiting and an interview, Long learned she would speak at the Aug. 11 commencement ceremony.
“It was a rush of excitement and also fear because I’m going to be speaking in front of 5,000 people,” Long said. “It’s also a very humbling opportunity, and I’m happy to represent the School of Nursing. Being able to share with my parents that I was selected was probably a highlight of my undergraduate career.”
As she encourages her fellow graduates, Long also hopes to draw audience members into the student experience through her commencement speech.
“All of the students that are graduating know what the UAB experience is, but I want to bring the audience into the UAB family. I want them to understand how hard we have worked, what we went through to get here, what UAB means to us and what it has allowed us to do,” Long said.
That includes being prepared for the road ahead. Commencement is the beginning of a new phase in life, Long said, and she looks forward to seeing where her education takes her.
“My speech is also about changing the world. Something I’ve picked up at UAB is that we are all going to change the world, but we’re not changing the whole world. Instead, we’re changing the world by making someone laugh or smile when they didn’t think they would do that again,” Long said. “This commencement allows me to take that step toward changing the world person by person as their nurse.”
Following graduation, Long will work at UAB Hospital. She plans to return to the School of Nursing for her master’s degree and become a family nurse practitioner.
The Graduate Commencement Ceremony will be Friday, Aug. 10 at 6 p.m., and the Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony will be Saturday, Aug. 11 at 9:30 a.m. Both commencements will take place at Bartow Arena.