While graduation season for high schools and colleges is concluding, there’s an adorable Class of 2017 that recently graduated from a different type of setting. At the neonatal center of CaroMont Regional Medical Center in Gastonia, North Carolina, neonatal nurses and NICU staff have held mini graduation ceremonies for the smallest of patients, the babies leaving the NICU who were born at least six month premature.
Since preemie babies require more medical care to help them thrive, the nurses decided to honor these newborns when they were finally ready to go home. Each preemie discharged gets a personalized graduation ceremony with their family, an official commencement photo, and their own decorated graduation cap.
“We had a baby born at 29 weeks gestation so he was in the NICU for over two months, and when he was finally ready to discharge, the family came and brought this onesie that said ‘NICU grad,'” nurse Melissa Jordan told Buzzfeed.
Inspired by the onesie, Jordan decided to make the day even more memorable and made a personalized graduation cap.
Each mortarboard is crafted in a variety of colors, and scrawled with a sweet message on top, “X days behind me, a whole lifetime in front of me,” filled in with how many days they spent in the NICU.
“The day he got discharged, we gathered staff and we went in singing and dancing and gave him his cap — and his parents just smiled ear to ear — that’s when we knew it was something we wanted to keep doing for other families,” Jordan said.
The graduation was so well received, the NICU staff decided to start a graduation as a way to celebrate this accomplishment for the whole families of preemies finally going home. “Leaving the NICU can be joyful but also scary and nerve-wracking, so this was our way of bringing a little normalcy to taking the baby home,” Jordan said.
Many NICU parents may choose to have their own “graduations” too, Director of Operations for Bella Baby Photography, Lauren Naldzin, told GoodHousekeeping.com. But, at this hospital they aimed to give all their preemies a special send-off before going home for the first time.
Since the graduation tradition has begun at the hospital, they have seen 14 babies graduate, including three sets of twins. Social media users and NICU parents alike have praised this adorable tradition to celebrate this milestone in their baby’s life. In addition, to each graduate’s personalized cap, families get a free commencement photo of their baby’s milestone.
Bella Baby Photography, the photographers under contract with CaroMont Regional Medical Center, are used to taking cute baby photos for new parents, but these graduation portraits are the cutest birth photos yet! Parents provide any props (other than the grad caps, which are gifts from the nursing staff), and Bella Baby is ready snap magical photos of their newborns.
“They [the parents] loved them. They were excited to have this little graduation to cap this stay,” Naldzin said. CaroMont Regional Medical Center hopes this new tradition can continue to grow and celebrate more babies’ milestones.
“Eventually, we hope to make a wall of graduates with these photos because it can also help give new parents in the NICU a little hope and reassurance,” Jordan said.
Congrats to the graduates!