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Nursing school graduates its 50th class

Dressed in crisp white uniforms from head to toe, 12 students became “the golden class” of an educational legacy in Suffolk on Wednesday.

The Suffolk Public Schools/Sentara Obici Hospital School of Practical Nursing graduated its 50th class and 707th student during a special ceremony.

“Our graduates have gone on to work in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes – gone to get their master’s (degrees) and become doctors,” said Gwen Sweat, director of the nursing school since 1987. “They work throughout the entire community and beyond.”

The nursing school began as a community-based program in 1959, a joint project between SPS and Sentara Obici hospital. It is a one-year program that helps adults become licensed practical nurses and knowledgeable in the skills and abilities to practice, as an entry-level practical nurse, in a safe and effective manner.

“Once they graduate, they have a vast array of opportunities,” Sweat said. “They can work in hospitals, nursing homes, doctors’ offices, clinics, urgent care, school nursing and traveling nursing. The opportunities are just endless.”

One of the past graduates now sits on the Virginia Board of Nursing, Sweat said.

Besides immediate opportunities available to students, the program can give wise economical choice for those with plans to pursue a higher medical education.

“It can be very economical for students,” Sweat said. “They can get their license and go on to work while they’re in school.”

The school has become well-respected in the community and its students’ successes draw friends and family members to follow in their footsteps.

“We have mothers, daughters and sisters who will follow after sisters — and even some men — in the program,” Sweat said.