Huntington Ingalls Industries hosted commencement exercises for the company's Apprentice School at Newport News Shipbuilding. The graduation, held at the Liberty Baptist Church Worship Center in Hampton, celebrated 137 apprentices representing 18 trades and four advanced programs.
Danny Hunley, vice president of operations at Newport News and an Apprentice School graduate, served as the keynote speaker. He shared lessons learned during his 40 years of service at the shipyard and reminded the future shipbuilders of the importance of their daily work.
"You build the machines that protect our way of life," he said. "Every morning that you wake up, young men and women in our Armed Forces are going to work in some far corner of the earth and potentially in harm's way on one of your products. The thing that protects them from harm is the platform you build. The way you carry out your job ensures that those young American men and women never find themselves in a fair fight—ever—and that they always get to come home."
Forty-four apprentices completed an optional, advanced program, and 44 apprentices graduated with honors. Seven apprentices graduated with high honors, and three graduated with highest honors. Athletic awards were presented to 18 apprentices, and eight apprentices completed their required academics with perfect 4.0 grade point averages.
Tim Owens received the Homer L. Ferguson Award for earning the highest grade point average in combined required academics and crafts. Owens, a former middle school music director, is the first patternmaker graduate in 30 years. The patternmaker program was discontinued in 1983 and recently re-established to support the shipyard's foundry.
"Looking forward, I believe we are on the cusp of a new industrial revolution, where machines like CNCs [computer numeric controls], 3-D printers and robots will continue to produce more and more of the work typically done by hand," Owens said during a speech to the graduates. "We must embrace this change and employ these new capabilities to be even more competitive. We must challenge ourselves to continually improve how we produce great ships, delivering better value to our country. And, we must also remember that shipbuilding will always require a certain artist's eye, touch and vision."
The Apprentice School accepts about 250 apprentices per year. The school offers four- to eight-year, tuition-free apprenticeships in 19 trades and eight optional advanced programs. Apprentices work a regular 40-hour week and are paid for all work, including time spent in academic classes. Through partnerships with Thomas Nelson Community College, Tidewater Community College and Old Dominion University, The Apprentice School's academic program provides the opportunity to earn associate degrees in business administration, engineering and engineering technology and a bachelor's degree in marine engineering.