(Photos provided by The School of Nursing)
Graduating nursing students and faculty gathered at the Student Union Theater on April 23 to celebrate the accomplishments of the class and honor Kyla Pokorny, a student who passed away two years ago, according to nursing publicity/marketing coordinator John Tyczkowski.
Pokorny was a nursing student at the university who battled Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare type of cancer that occurs in the bones or in the surrounding soft tissues. She passed away after a relapse in April 2017, Tyczkowski said.
School of Nursing class president Steven Nalewajk and vice president Audrey Apanovitch came up with the idea to honor Pokorny at the ceremony, Tyczkowski said. Nalewajk and Apanovitch both presented a memorial speech remembering Kyla and her spirit.
“Sometimes you meet a person and you know instantly that they are special and unique in a big way. That was Kyla,” Nalewajk said. “She wanted to give back all the amazing care and comfort she received throughout her treatments. But in reality, she gave so much more.”
Apanovitch added that after having Pokorny as her freshman year roommate, she realized how amazing her positive attitude was in the face of adversity.
“She made caring for others her life's work while she endured 15 rounds of chemo and radiation herself,” Apanovitch said. “Kyla taught me about the amazing resilience of a child, about the strength of sheer will and about grace. Kyla is a fundamental part of the pediatric nurse that I aspire to be.”
Nalewajk spoke about Pokorny’s foundation, Move Mountains, which was started after her passing to further distribute Kyla’s Chemo Kits to patients at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.
“Kyla wanted to have a positive impact on every child facing cancer,” Nalewajk said. “She used her own battle to ease the fight for others by creating Kyla's Chemo Kits.”
The two students presented the nursing pin to Pokorny’s father Bill, her brother Josh and her grandfather Francis Pokorny, who were all in attendance at the ceremony.
Apanovitch, who was very close with Pokorny throughout the entirety of her college career and battle with cancer, reflected on Pokorny’s spirit despite her struggles.
“She was just the sweetest girl and was so positive given the circumstances of everything,” Apanovitch said. “At the very least, she was just an inspiration to the entire School of Nursing.”
Apanovitch said that she felt that presenting a speech and pin for Pokorny was a nod to her endless kindness and selflessness in her short life.
“She was a one-in-a-million person. We felt that the very least we could do was to recognize her and all that she has done,” Apanovitch said. “She has done so much for other patients in the hospital as well; she was always putting others before herself regardless of how she was feeling at the time.”
The pin means more to Pokorny’s family and the graduating nursing class than anyone could ever imagine, Apanovitch added.
“Clearly, Kyla earned this pin long before the rest of us,” Apanovitch said. “We hope it serves as a reminder that she will always be a UConn Husky and a part of the UConn School of Nursing Class of 2019 family.”
Taylor Harton is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. They can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.