Newport News' Apprentice School Graduates 170
Global engineering and defense technologies provider Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) hosted commencement exercises for 170 graduates of the company’s Apprentice School at Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS). The ceremony was held at Liberty Live Church in Hampton.
Newport News Shipbuilding President Jennifer Boykin began the event by addressing the graduates as the shipyard’s newest leaders. “I want you to know how proud I am of each of you for everything that you've accomplished,” Boykin said. “Today is just the next step towards your leadership role at Newport News Shipbuilding, and we and our country need you more than ever. As shipbuilders, we take on the truly unique honor of building vessels that protect our country and go into harm's way.”
The commencement address was delivered by Karen Henneberger, program manager for New Ship Design at Naval Reactors, a joint Department of Energy and Department of Navy program. She told graduates at the heart of The Apprentice School and their development is craftsmanship, leadership and scholarship. During her address she offered a deep Naval Reactors’ perspective on each of these tenets as they relate to the graduates’ current responsibilities at Newport News Shipbuilding, and their impact beyond the shipyard gates.
Like Boykin, Henneberger, emphasized that the Navy needs shipbuilders.
Henneberger said, “We need shipbuilders more than ever. We need to find ways to put more ships to sea, to maintain our nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers in more efficient ways and to deploy innovative capabilities.”
Additionally she encouraged the graduates, “Think about safety in everything you do, your safety and the safety of your fellow shipbuilders … Think about quality, it matters. We need you to be an expert at your craft and not forget the tools of your craft as you move up the ladder. Model the high standard for first time quality that we need every shipyard worker to embrace.”
Henneberger also added a fourth tenet about relationships. Specifically, she highlighted the relationship between Naval Reactors and NNS, describing it as complex and as a regulator and a partner. She said, “It’s our responsibility to ensure the various facets of our program are meeting requirements. We lay out facts in an unemotional way to insist that members of our program root out problems and face facts brutally.”
Speaking next, and in Apprentice School tradition, was the apprentice receiving the Homer L. Ferguson Award, which recognizes the graduate with the highest honors. This year it was Christopher S. Rose, a deck electrician who began his career in 2017 at NNS. He has supported a variety of projects in the Virginia-class program, as well as the Nimitz-class and Ford-class programs, and is currently working on USS George Washington (CVN 73).
In his remarks to the graduates, Rose reflected on the first piece of advice he received on his first day at the shipyard, “always watch where you're stepping.” He shared that this seemed like basic advice at the time, however it has since become key in helping him frame his thoughts to overcome challenges.
“Always watch for your step, plan where you are going, and put the journey before the destination,” Rose said. “No matter what you're doing, the most important step is the next one. Once you know what you need to do, it’s just a matter of logistics.”
As the event closed, Boykin reminded the graduates what they heard at the ceremony. She said, “Your critical role in the defense of our nation cannot be understated. The Navy depends on us to deliver capable, reliable vessels that help keep our sailors safe. And I’m depending on you to bring your skill, your experience, your knowledge and your heart to every challenge that you face. So always do your absolute best. Never settle for good enough and always keep learning. If you do this, I know that our nation’s future will be safer and brighter.”