Miriam Barnett.

49-year-old Miriam Barnett of Evanston graduated at the top of her class at Oakton Community College’s fall nursing pinning ceremony Wednesday at the school’s Des Plaines campus.

Barnett was among six Evanstonians in the 25-student graduating class honored at the drive-up pinning ceremony attended by faculty, friends and family who hooted in pride for all the nurses who embarking on health care careers.

“I’m a living example it’s never too late to reinvent yourself,” says Barnett, who previously worked in commercial construction and real estate and as a fitness director before enrolling at Oakton.

“This serves as a message to younger people you can always change career paths. I’ve always wanted to work in health care,” Barnett said. “I’m looking forward to spending the next part of my life in such a worthwhile profession. Nurses are needed now more than ever.”

The other Fall 2021 nursing program graduates from Evanston are Keilah Becker, Chrishon Jefferson, Rebecca Olasimbo, Alana Pontarelli and Isabelle Walker.

Barnett received the Keeper of the Light Award, which recognizes the Oakton nursing candidate who has maintained the highest grade point average throughout the nursing curriculum. She graduated with an overall GPA of 3.80.

The college also inducted Barnett and several other grads into the Alpha Delta Nu Nursing Honor Society. The National Organization for Associate Degree Nursing (N-OADN) recognizes top associate degree nursing students with membership in Alpha Delta Nu. To be considered, students must have completed their first year of nursing, have attained a 3.0 overall GPA and earned a B or better in the core nursing courses.

Students also must have demonstrated conduct on campus and in clinical areas that reflects integrity and professionalism. To be awarded full membership, students must finish their third semester of nursing and complete a group capstone project, which focuses on either recruitment or educational activities.

“These students are inspirational as this has been a very trying time,” Margaret Gas, Nursing chair, says. “All of their hard work and dedication paid off in the end. The pins will always remind students to persevere, no matter what the situation. I’m very proud of the graduates.”

Since 1984, more than 2,400 students have received an Associate of Applied Science-Nursing credential from Oakton. Instructional classes and labs feature a state-of-the-art nursing simulation hospital and nursing classrooms. Students enrich their learning through the clinical experiences offered in various health care settings throughout the community.

Over the last five years, Oakton has averaged a first-time pass rate of over 90% on the NCLEX, the national licensure exam for nurses. In 2020, that passing rate was 93%.

Nurses are in high demand, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Jobs for registered nurses are expected to grow faster than average through 2026, with a median salary of more than $68,000 per year.

More information about Oakton’s Nursing program is available online.