Keneisha Hylton had to stop herself from crying as she thought about everything she’s accomplishing this week.
Hylton, 37, will graduate on Friday from UNC Greensboro with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). She’ll earn her degree despite being told over the years that, as a single mother of two serving in the U.S. Army, she was too old to become a nurse.
After graduation, Hylton will head to San Antonio, Texas, to start training to become an Army officer. She’ll get promoted from sergeant to second lieutenant.
Hylton was one of 11 active-duty military service members in the School of Nursing’s Veterans Access Program (VAP) who were recognized Monday for volunteering at UNCG’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic.
Gathered in the new Nursing and Instructional Building, the 11 nursing students were presented with certificates informing them that they’ll receive the prestigious Army Achievement Medal for administering vaccines at the clinic.
“It’s emotional to be honest with you,” Hylton said, trying to sum up her feelings about this week. “I still can’t believe it, and I’m in awe because I was told by so many people that I wouldn’t make it because my first semester I almost failed.”
Today is National Nurses Day.
School of Nursing volunteers gave out 7,402 vaccines at UNCG’s clinic that ran for six weeks, from mid-March to late April. All but two of the 11 service members recognized during Monday’s ceremony are seniors graduating this week with their BSN.
Their certificates state, in part, that their “outstanding performance, expertise, and dedication to duty greatly contributed to the success of the Guilford County Health Department in delivering the COVID-19 vaccine to the community.”
“They are so busy with their senior capstone and everything, and they still volunteered at the clinic. It struck me that they were there,” said Dr. Susan Letvak, the VAP director and a professor in the School of Nursing. “They were there, and they were leaders at the clinic.
“Nobody had to check. Nobody had to go over anything with them. They actually stood out at the vaccine clinic for being extraordinary volunteers.”
Jude Camberos, 29, who was stationed at Fort Eustis in Virginia before coming to UNCG as a VAP student, was one of two juniors honored during Monday’s ceremony.
Camberos said he has been involved with flu shot clinics during his eight years in the Army. So, when he received an email from a School of Nursing faculty member looking for students to volunteer at the coronavirus vaccine clinic, he agreed to help.
“The need for volunteers was put out,” Camberos said. “For all of us, when there’s a need, we fill the need.”
Camberos said it’s an honor to receive the Army Achievement Medal.
“It is a big deal,” Camberos said. “For example, my grandfather was in the Navy for 26 years, deployed seven times, and this is the equivalent of his medal for all that time in service.”
Monday’s ceremony and Friday’s graduation caps an unexpected past two years for Hylton, who immigrated from Jamaica.
Hylton was stationed in Germany before moving to Greensboro to attend the School of Nursing. She admitted she initially had a difficult time getting adjusted to the move.
Hylton struggled with her classes during her first semester at UNCG. She also had to make regular visits to the hospital because her daughter, Gabrielle, who was age 1 at the time, had upper-respiratory issues.
“My furniture wasn’t here. Nothing was here, and I had to sleep on the floor with my baby. My baby was sick. I was in and out of the hospital with her,” Hylton said. “I still can’t believe it.”
She’s now about to become an officer and a nurse.
Story by Alex Abrams, School of Nursing
Photography by Jiyoung Park, University Communications