College of Nursing alumna shares encouragement, wisdom with Auburn graduates during fall commencement speech

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Auburn University alumna Dr. Simona Black imparted wisdom gained from decades of experience during her speech to 1,900 excited graduates at Neville Arena on Friday night.

A retired colonel in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps and a 1994 graduate of the College of Nursing, Black harkened back to the days she was a student on the Plains roughly three decades ago.

“When I walked across this stage [to graduate], I didn’t know exactly where life would take me, and I know many of you feel the same,” said Black, a Sacramento, California, native. “The one thing I was certain of was that I was graduating from an institution that cultivated important values of respect, teamwork and determination, just to name a few. Since I graduated from Auburn, these values have guided my decisions and given me a foundation that has helped me grow in my roles as a leader, soldier and caregiver.”

An accomplished clinical administrator, military leader and policy advocate, Black delivered an inspiring message reflecting her journey as a former student leader, combat nurse and health care expert. She shared three “pearls of wisdom” with the nearly 2,000 graduates and their gathered guests, namely, to treat everyone with respect, find their “team” and to never give up.

Black, a board-certified Clinical Nurse Specialist, recounted memories from her time treating injured soldiers while deployed in Baghdad, Iraq. The two-time Meritorious Service Medal honoree described how she and her medical colleagues worked feverishly to treat as many of the injured as they could, regardless of their background.

“Days were long and always filled with uncertainty, and not one day went by that I did not think that I might not see my family again,” said Black, an Army Commendation Medal winner and Defense Meritorious Service Medal recipient. “It didn’t matter who was wounded, all patients were treated with the respect they had earned on the battlefield. All that mattered was that we did everything in our power to care for the men and women who came through our emergency room doors.

“In one moment, I remember thinking to myself, ‘This is why I’m here, a military nurse, and I’m proud to be an American.’”

She also encouraged graduates to find a mentor, to go outside their comfort zone, become mentors themselves and to use their fortitude to overcome adversity.

“You’re graduating today because a team helped you, and now it’s your turn,” said Black, the 2020 Auburn Alumni Association’s Black Alumni Achievement Award winner. “My fellow Tigers, you all have shown you have grit and resilience that no other generation has had to show and, as [Auburn] President [Christopher B.] Roberts said, you all persevered through it amazingly. When you leave this campus and enter into your next phase of greatness, remember these three things: to treat people with dignity and respect, build your team and never quit on your dreams.”

Friday night’s address also included the official conferral of 1,900 degrees by Auburn Board of Trustees member Timothy Vines, as well as the group recognition of undergraduate students graduating with academic honors and an official welcome to the Auburn Alumni Association. Auburn President Christopher B. Roberts also congratulated the graduates and welcomed their guests to the Plains.

“Since Auburn’s founding in 1856, more than 315,000 students have earned degrees from our institution,” Roberts said. “This weekend, we will add exactly 1,900 more graduates to this prestigious group. These numbers are important because they demonstrate the extraordinary impact Auburn has and continues to have on our state, nation and world, an impact made possible by students like you who continue to exhibit the values of the Auburn Creed wherever you go.”

Friday night’s program was followed by individual colleges’ ceremonies at Neville Arena on Saturday, which began at 8 a.m. A total of 1,900 graduates participated in the commencement celebrations, and of those graduates, 1,358 were bachelor’s degrees, 418 were master’s degrees, 111 were doctorates and 13 were specialist degrees.

Among those were the mother-son engineering tandem of Donna Jackson and Jamie Whitehead from Alexander City, Alabama. Jackson earned her master’s in computer science and software engineering through the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering’s online program, and Whitehead completed his undergraduate degree in the same discipline.

More information about Auburn’s celebrations can be found on the commencement website.

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