When Hope Buickerood, 37, of Waterford Works, N.J., walks across the commencement stage and accepts her diploma, she will be just five days out from pacemaker-replacement surgery. Buickerood’s bachelor of science in nursing degree has been almost 20 years in the making, and she is not about to miss the final moment.
"I'm an emotional person, so I think walking across the stage with my family and friends in the audience was a happy but overwhelming moment," Buickerood said. "When I earned my first degree from Rutgers–Camden, my cap said, 'To be continued…' because I knew I wanted to be a nurse. This time around, my cap says, 'A sweet ending to a new beginning' to mark the start of my career."
Buickerood has spent her entire life managing complications of a severe congenital heart defect. While she began her undergraduate career in 2003 as an education major, her second open-heart surgery at age 20 was a wake-up call that changed the trajectory of her life.
“I thought to myself, ‘What are you doing? You should be a nurse.’ In a way, it served as a compass to redirect me to the path I was meant to take.”
Buickerood was steadfast in her decision to become a nurse, but she struggled both financially and physically. During a brief stint of good health, she completed a dual bachelor of arts degree in health sciences and psychology at Rutgers–Camden, where she felt immediately embraced by a close-knit, supportive community. Three years and multiple hospitalizations later, she “came home” to Rutgers–Camden in January 2022 to pursue her accelerated bachelor of science in nursing degree.
“I was 37, and I felt I hadn’t completed any of my dreams,” Buickerood said. “But everything I went through made me grateful that I was alive, and that I was in the program, and that one of my dreams was right there within reach if I kept going.”
And keep going Buickerood did, maintaining a spot on the dean’s list throughout most of her time in the program while successfully completing clinical rotations at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and AtlantiCare Health. She was also inducted into Sigma Theta Tau, an invitation-only international nurses honors society that recruits students who rank in the top 35 percent of their graduating class.
Buickerood is grateful for her classmates at Rutgers–Camden who cheered her on through every setback. She also credits her professors, who she feels were “truly invested” in her success.
Creative Design: Karaamat Abdullah