Many schools carry on the longstanding tradition of awarding graduating nurses with pins at a ceremony with pomp and circumstance. The custom dates back to the 1860s when nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale awarded the best nurses in the graduating class with a Maltese Cross medal. The pinning ceremony is a rite of passage that welcomes students into the esteemed nursing profession in the presence of proud family members. The program varies slightly from school to school; typically, the pinning ceremony includes graduates being pinned, recitation of a nursing pledge and lighting of candles or an oil lamp.
A pinning ceremony commences with acknowledgement of the accomplishments of the graduating class. Graduates then step forward to receive a nursing pin unique to the school. Students may be pinned by an instructor or close family member whose support contributed to their success. The program often includes expressions of gratitude from students to faculty, family and friends. Individual candles or an oil lamp may be lit, symbolizing the light that Florence Nightingale carried when helping wounded soldiers late into the night. The oil lamp is sometimes passed from a student in the graduating class to a student representative of the next anticipated graduating class. The class also reads a nursing pledge, such as the International Council of Nurses pledge, promising to uphold exemplary professional standards.