MAYHEW -- Anna Dotson knew since junior high school that she wanted to become a nurse. Thursday night, she fulfilled that dream.

Dotson, 23, a McCool native who resides in Columbus, was one of 27 students who graduated from EMCC'S Practical Nursing program during a ceremony at the Golden Triangle campus. Dotson was presented with the Florence Nightingale Award by Nursing Instructor Linda Hebert.

"The student chosen to receive this award embodies the spirit of nursing," Hebert said during the award presentation. "This award is not about academic achievements but about being an overall leader and striving to make a difference just like Florence Nightingale did by making a huge impact and difference in everything she was involved with."

Hebert said Dotson excelled in the classroom, exhibited great leadership skills and demonstrated caring and compassion towards others.

"At times she showed more concern for the success of other students than she did for her own success," Hebert said.

Dotson said she was naturally drawn to nursing.

"I know people need help and I know people need love and they need care," Dotson said. "Those are the things I like doing. And we touch lives. We might not save a life every day but we touch lives -- just by conversations, just by caring for people."

The Practical Nursing program is a 12-month course of study designed to prepare students to become licensed practical nurses. Students are taught nursing skills, nutrition, anatomy and physiology, human growth and development, pharmacology, maternal child nursing, emotional and mental illness, and medical/surgical nursing.

Many find work in clinics or nursing homes.

"Many will go on to earn their Associate Degree Nursing," Hebert said. "They have to work a year before they can upgrade to an ADN."

Dotson plans to return to school to earn a degree as a registered nurse.

Fellow graduate and class president Caleb Murphy is not yet sure if he will do the same.

"I don't know if I want to remain a practical nurse or pursue an RN," said Murphy, who earned a degree in communications and worked in the airline industry before deciding to return to school to earn his degree in nursing.

Murphy, 33, a Starkville native, said his wife is an RN.

"I have always liked the medical field and am interested in how the body works -- anatomy, physiology and everything," Murphy said. "My wife would tell about her work and it was something I was interested in, so that is kind of what kind of got me into it."

Guest speaker Whitney Blackston said little did she know when she graduated from EMCC's Practical Nursing program in 2009 that her degree would help prepare her to fulfill one of the most important roles of her life, that of being a mother.

Blackston's daughter, Emerson, was born Oct. 16, 2012, with a rare genetic condition called Fraser Syndrome that requires around-the-clock nursing care. When she is not working as an allergy nurse, Blackston serves as nurse, mother and caregiver to her child.

"Nursing is a big part of my life," Blackston said. "As I sat where you sit now I would never have been able to fathom what life had in store for me as a nurse."

In addition to the Florence Nightingale Award, five students received Clinical Excellence Awards for exceeding the expectations of their instructors. Those students are: ShaQuila Walters, Brittany Murphy, Katie McCraw, Lory Honnoll and Stephanie Ellis.

The 2016 graduates of EMCC's Practical Nursing program are: Jessie Allred of Eupora; Mollye Michelle Baker of Columbus; Heather Scout Beiring of Hattiesburg; Kelly Elizabeth Butler of Columbus; Chaday La'Shea Cistrunk of West Point; Ashley Le'Ann Craddieth of Columbus; Tristian Crimm of Cedar Bluff; Anna Dotson of Columbus; Stephanie Rheanne Ellis of Biloxi; Lory Kay Honnoll of Greenville; Tailer "Lindsey" Ann Johnson of Columbus; Zachary Johnson of Pearl; Katie McCraw of Columbus; Brittany Nicole Murphy of Columbus; Caleb Murphy of Starkville; Karina Daniela Reyes of West Point; Jacob Rogers of Louisville; LaQuandra Stewart-Stallings of Columbus; Nola Ilene Stewart of Columbus; Adrianna Dominique Sykes of Columbus; Nikki Taylor of Columbus; Nina Truelock of Roanoke, Ala.; ShaQuila Kimbrell Walters of Crawford; Jessica Nicole Washington of Mantee; Trisha Lynn Williams of Vardaman; Amber Chandler Wilson of West Point and Regina Sierra Yarbrough of Starkville.

Beiring, Crimm, Dotson, Zachary Johnson, Brittany Murphy and Truelock were named to the National Federation of Licensed Practical Nurses Honor Society. Crimm, Walters and Wilson graduated with Honors.

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