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Speech: Norfolk Naval Shipyard Graduates

Delivered by Edna V. Baehre-Kolovani
Nov. 6, 2014

Good evening. I’m deeply honored to be here tonight to share in your success. As you know from the hours you have spent on our Portsmouth Campus, TCC provides the academic component of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard’s apprenticeship program. Working together for over forty years, TCC and the Shipyard have developed courses, program certificates and degree options, and we have combined academics, trade theory, and on-the-job-experience to create a multi-level and flexible program.  

In higher education, we call the process applicants go through to become students the “enrollment funnel,” and I am here to tell you have navigated a very challenging funnel. Nearly nineteen-hundred people threw their applications into the top of the funnel. About half, seven hundred and seventy eight, were interviewed for the apprenticeship program. Of those, only one-hundred eighty-four enrolled in this class at the apprentice school – and most came with some college experience.

Today, we are honoring 168 graduates. From nineteen hundred to one hundred and sixty-eight. That is what I call a select group. Give yourselves a hand! [pause for applause]

Your achievements, which we are celebrating today, are part of a historical continuum that predates the founding of the United States itself.

When TCC was founded in 1968, the Norfolk Naval Shipyard had already been in operation for more than two hundred years. It was established in 1767 as a naval and merchant facility for the British Crown. Then known as the Gosport Shipyard, it was relinquished to the Commonwealth of Virginia at the end of the American Revolution, and was eventually leased to the United States Federal Government by the commonwealth.

In 1767, the leaders of our country, like you, were apprentices of a sort. Their task was to create a nation — indeed, a new sort of country that would be different than any the world had known before. They had their teachers, as you have had. And they were just as proud and eager to move forward into the future as you are.

Today, you are celebrating the completion of your apprenticeships. And you are prepared to take on a greater role in a world that is challenging and ever-changing. But the foundation that this apprenticeship has given you will strengthen you, and will always support you.

As graduates of this program, you are also Tidewater Community College alumni, and the college will always be part of your story. Last year, we asked a shipyard employee, Brian Presson, about his time at TCC. He’s now a naval architect technician, and he had this to say:

 “I knew when I went to TCC that I’d get what I needed. I would not be able to qualify for my position had I not taken the AutoCAD and Autodesk classes. I got the hands-on in the classroom and at work because they actually allowed me to start the job while taking classes.”

I firmly believe that the Norfolk Naval Shipyard Apprenticeship program and TCC’s academic involvement in that program represent a model for what training and education can accomplish for a bedrock industry such as yours. When the parties involved have a common goal, a well-developed plan of action, and the initiative and resources necessary to reach that goal, the results strengthen our businesses, our economy, and our democracy.

TCC already coordinates the curriculum for apprenticeship-related instruction for 17 employers representing shipbuilding, ship repair, manufacturing, electrical, HVAC, child care, machining, and boat/marina operations.

But, there should be more collaborations of this nature. You are perhaps aware that my native country, Germany, has a history of apprenticeship that stretches back to the Middle Ages. For three years – and this may sound familiar to you — students are exposed to classroom theory and hands-on training in companies that bear most of the cost. I am working to explore the opportunities for adapting that system to the U.S.

So, do you think you’re finished with TCC? I hope not. I want to take a few moments to remind you of what TCC has to offer you as you move forward with your careers. Even though today you are graduating from the apprentice program, education is a lifelong pursuit.  Some of you will continue on and work toward associate degrees, more certifications, or bachelor’s degrees. In fact, over the last five years, more than one hundred Norfolk Naval Shipyard apprentices have received their associate of applied science degrees from TCC.  So, please, keep us in mind as you make your educational plans for the future. There are countless opportunities for you at TCC.

 And even if you consider your education complete, your status as TCC alumni will never change. Today, you are receiving a TCC Alumni pin and being welcomed into the alumni community as a lifelong member. We will always be here for you – to connect you with other alumni, to provide career resources — and we hope you will be there for us as an active member. Our alumni enjoy exclusive events, volunteer at TCC activities and mentor TCC students, so I invite you to “connect, contribute and celebrate” at T-C-C-Alumni dot O-R-G.

 Jimmy Dean, the country singer who lived not far from here on the banks of the James River, once said: “I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.” As you go forth with your careers, remember that TCC will help you adjust your sails and to help steer you to your destination.

Thank you so much for welcoming TCC into your lives and your futures. And congratulations on your graduation from this remarkable program. I wish you each success and happiness.