With much joyous story-telling and in-jokes, 57 new nurses came into the world Friday, graduates of Oregon Health & Science University School of Nursing's Ashland campus. Nine-five percent of them walk into secure jobs with an average wage of $32 an hour. Nine graduates are male.

OHSU performs their touching graduation the day before Southern Oregon University held its commencement on Saturday. The new nurses shared many honors and celebratory ribbons worn around their necks, and shared, too, many a story with classmates, tales that will soon become the stuff of nostalgia, as they depart for demanding jobs in many parts of Oregon and the world.

Highlight of the commencement was student-nominated speaker Luke Merriam, who started with a war whoop, miming the hoisting of a freshly-caught salmon in the air and noting the “stress and money-mongering” of the intense three-year, bachelor’s degree program — and, to uproarious laughter, his hashtag, #bigsexyblondebeefsteaknurse.

The other student speaker, Abby Sanchez, noted, “It wasn’t always easy and enjoyable and certainly not cheap.”

However, Associate Professor Paula Gubrud-Howe said the OHSU Nursing Program is one of the most highly respected in the nation, with nurses scoring “very impressive” job placement and starting at well over $60,000 a year.

The job picture for grads is especially rosy now, as the country emerges from the crippling Great Recession, with recovery allowing the retirement of large numbers of older nurses, said Joanne Noone, associate dean of the Ashland OHSU campus.

“It’s a very strong career choice right now,” Noone said, with many newly open positions because of retirement and the Affordable Care Act (often called Obamacare). The average age of nurses in Oregon now is 54, thus opening the door for young graduates.

Program directors handed out many ribbons and awards for students who’d excelled in diversity, volunteerism with underserved populations, working with the elderly and making an impact in the valley during student years.

Chosen by students to speak, Instructor Teri Copley said the three words she would use to describe the graduating class are “driven, determined and tenacious” — and she reminded them of their mission with a Patch Adams quote: “You treat the disease, you win, you lose. You treat the person, you always win.”

Graduate Asia Machnicka, the daughter of Polish immigrants, celebrated landing a job in the Intensive Care Unit of OHSU Portland the day before, and said, “It’s all unknown. You think you know what to expect but you don’t. There’s a huge need out there for nurses and this program absolutely produces amazing nurses.”

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.