Nursing graduates stand side-by-side with hands raised in front reciting oath

Newest class of Betty Irene Moore nursing graduates celebrates pinning


When 41 future registered nurses walked across the stage in Betty Irene Moore Hall, they were armed with powerful knowledge and life-saving skills.

Each student graduating in the Master’s Entry Program in Nursing Class of 2023 completed 18 months of study, 900 hours of clinical experiences, roughly 42 exams and countless dreams of becoming R.N.s.

Tonja Copeland envisioned this moment more than two decades ago. In 1999, she graduated from Sacramento City College as a licensed vocational nurse and was on public assistance. She has worked at UC Davis Health for six years. In 2019, she returned to a vision board she had created and turned it into a reality. In four short years, she added to her résumé two associate degrees, a bachelor’s degree, a business certificate and finally a Master of Science in Nursing from the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis.

“I not only did this for me, but for everyone who looks like me, looks up to me and for those who think that it's not possible. I did it for the little boys and girls who want to follow in my footsteps. I did it for my children to show them that education is the key to success, “Copeland said. “It means that I have reached a pinnacle in my life and because I ‘believed in better’ before UC Davis Health made it a brand.”

She added: “The pinning ceremony means so much to me.”

On top: a vision board with cut-out photos and quotes for inspiration; on bottom, Tonja Copeland, right, with arm around a mentor and two onlookers at podium receiving Star Student Nurse Award.
Top: Graduate Tonja Copeland’s vision board to achieve her dream of nursing. Bottom: Copeland, right, receives Star Student Nurse Award.

Different voices valued

Copeland chose the School of Nursing because of its commitment to preparing diverse clinicians to care for a diverse California. When she entered in 2022, 28.3% of the students identified as Hispanic and 10.2% were Black, which is nearly double California’s Black population.

The school’s diversity and mission also resonated with new graduate Dai-Johnea Beshears.

“What really stood out to me was how inclusive it was, not only for the application process, but also how the program prepares you with different courses. That focus on not only the clinical aspect but how we can achieve the best outcomes in different populations that aren't as fortunate,” Beshears explained.

A Betty Irene Moore nurse

The master’s-entry nursing program accepts students who have earned a bachelor’s degree in another discipline and prepares them for the nursing boards, formally known as the national licensing examination (NCLEX) for R.N.s. The accelerated program develops a new breed of graduates who are nimble enough to become agents of change in this new age of health care, said faculty members who offered guidance to the graduates, who will have their first shot at the exam in January.

“Take the time you need to process your emotions and channel them to move you forward, into your career as a nurse. And not just a nurse, but a Betty Irene Moore nurse,” nursing program director Shana Ruggenberg told the gradates. “A nurse who will make a difference as a leader, a problem-solver, a change agent and as a nurse who will provide person-centered care.”

Shana Ruggenberg headshot
Take the time you need to process your emotions and channel them to move you forward, into your career as a nurse. A Betty Irene Moore nurse…a nurse who will make a difference as a leader, a problem-solver, a change agent and as a nurse who will provide person-centered care.Shana Ruggenberg, Master’s Entry Program in Nursing director

Being a Betty Irene Moore graduate takes on special significance this year. The co-founder and namesake of the school passed away on Dec. 12 at the age of 95. Moore is remembered as an advocate for patients and families, a champion of nursing and a pioneer for improving health care. She is credited for founding a school to transform health care.

Keynote speaker Kathryn Sexson, director for the School of Nursing’s Doctor of Nursing Practice — Family Nurse Practitioner program, further expanded on the significance of being a graduate of this nursing school.

“It is this effort that has supported your growth from a room of individuals who thought they knew what it meant to be a nurse, to a group of individuals who now truly know what it means to be a nurse,” Sexson said. “You are a teacher, an advocate, a scientist, a promoter of healthy lifestyles, a confidante, a holder of safe space, a professional who provides evidence-based treatment to those in need and a role model for your communities.”

Dean stands at podium speaking into microphone with image of Betty Irene Moore on screen behind him
Nursing Dean Stephen Cavanagh pays tribute to the school’s co-founder Betty Irene Moore who passed away earlier this week at the age of 95.

A time-honored tradition

The pinning tradition dates back to the twelfth century. Later, during the Crimean War when Florence Nightingale was honored with the red cross of St. George, the significance strengthened.

In Sacramento on Thursday evening, each graduate walked across the stage and received a pin from someone who they selected, including parents, children, faculty and mentors. That person then placed the pin, which was on a ribbon, around the graduate’s neck.

Class-elected speaker Nolan Gabriel took the stage to share his outlook on the future of the Class of 2023.

"I have so much confidence knowing that this group of incoming new nurses will make so many positive impacts on the health care system,” he said. “We have been part of such an innovative program that places a great emphasis on advocating for what’s right and making changes for better outcomes.”

Following the speech, Ruggenberg called Tonja Copeland back up to the stage for a surprise announcement: She was named the first recipient of the “Star Student Nurse Award.” It is given to a graduate who embodies UC Davis Health’s values and shows up every day with extraordinary love, compassion, courage and integrity in every situation.

 Nursing graduates stand side-by-side with hands raised in front reciting oath
Nursing graduates recite a nursing pledge after receiving their pins.

To conclude the ceremony, graduates recited a nursing pledge vowing to practice with compassion and respect, advocate for all patients and continue their personal and professional growth. School of Nursing Dean Stephen Cavanagh congratulated them for becoming alumni and reminded them how proud the faculty and staff are of their success.

“To quote a famous doctor — Dr. Seuss, that is — ‘Oh the places you’ll go. You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose,’ Cavanagh said. “Whether that’s at the bedside, in the community, in an underserved area or in policy circles, you can choose with confidence. We know that Betty Irene Moore’s vision is alive and well in you.”

The event was also broadcast on Facebook Live for those who could not attend.