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SPU Apprentices Celebrate Graduation With Hugs and Smiles

By 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Todd Snider stood behind a podium at the Museum of Flight. Before him were about 100 SPU colleagues and guests seated at tables.

Slowly and carefully, Snider, who is SPU’s Apprenticeship Program Manager, read aloud seven first names of special people in the audience: “Darrick…Thomas…Matthew…Juan…Ismael…Jamaal…and Santino.”

That moment – as the names hung in the air for the audience to hear – marked the graduation on March 15 of SPU’s Drainage and Wastewater Collection Worker Apprenticeship Class of 2024.

The roomful of hugs, smiles, handshakes, and laughter with SPU instructors and staff, as well as with the apprentices’ families, added to the evening’s warmth and memories.

The Class of 2024 started on September 15, 2021, with 12 apprentices. The seven new journey-level workers – often referred to as journeymen or journeywomen – who graduated on Friday are: Matthew Tyler Bertell, Juan Cervantes, Darrick Trevor Goodnow, Thomas Russell Gray, Ismael Eduardo Hernandez, Jamaal Demetrius Royal, and Santino Lauifi Tauiliili.

Cervantes, 23, was working at another job when an SPU employee told him about the Apprenticeship Program. “I really saw the growth I could have here. I like knowing we’re doing work that serves the public,” the Everett resident said.

In his remarks, Snider reminded the audience that the pandemic loomed large in 2021. When the Class of 2024 began, the apprentices often faced bitter cold during the winter because Snider kept the classroom’s garage door open for public health.

“I said that your path would not be an easy one,” Snider said. “That the work was hard, and wet, dirty, often cold, and sometimes dangerous. So, I encouraged you to persevere, to work hard and to sacrifice when required. And you have.”

Snider highlighted the history and importance of an apprenticeship – that it dates to Antiquity when a skilled craftsperson mentors and teaches another individual so a trade can continue to another generation.

In this case, SPU’s apprenticeship is about helping ensure the Utility’s drainage and wastewater system is maintained and working all the time for Seattle residents. The Class of 2024 learned from senior SPU staff members about mainline cleaning, stormwater assets, inspections, investigations, repairs, and installations.

“We have one of the most serious and necessary functions that supports civilization,” Mark DeVos, a former apprentice who is now SPU’s Drainage and Wastewater Collection Lead Worker, told the apprentices and audience.

“It’s (the drainage and wastewater system) one of those things that most people never give a moment’s thought to. After all, it’s largely out of sight, out of mind. But all it takes is one unfortunate situation that disrupts the system, and suddenly, things are in crisis,” he added.

Ray Brown, SPU’s Drainage and Wastewater System Maintenance Division Director, reflected on his life, career, and public service to impart words of wisdom to the Class of 2024.

“Not everyone can do what you can,” he said. “Not everyone is willing to bust their hands and scrape their knuckles.”

He said that craftspeople help make a path forward for communities, adding: “You are part of the community you work in. They depend on you.”

Apprentices also depend on their families. Gray, who was selected to deliver a speech on behalf of the Class of 2024, thanked his teenage son for helping siblings so he could meet the program’s requirements.

“Two and a half years later, I still feel what I felt on my first day as an apprentice, and that feeling is gratitude,” Gray said, thanking SPU staff members who relied on lived experience to treat the Class of 2024 with respect and patience.

Drainage and Wastewater Deputy Director Ellen Stewart sent congratulations and insight via video because she was unable to attend the graduation. “You can never go wrong by focusing on people,” Stewart told the apprentices. “It will give you purpose.”

As people lined up for the banquet dinner, Tina Ramos took a moment to reflect on the evening and the importance of apprenticeships to SPU and the nation. She is a former apprentice who now works as SPU’s Drainage and Wastewater Apprenticeship Advisor.

“I want to get more people in the program. I want to see more women in it,” she said. “Trades, in general, have been forgotten. We troubleshoot. There is a need for this work. It can’t be done all by computers and Artificial Intelligence.”

After each apprentice walked up to a line of SPU staff members and guests to receive a graduation certificate and an acrylic SPU graduation trophy, the audience applauded. SPU instructors later exchanged hugs and handshakes with the apprentices, who posed for photos to mark the moment.

“It’s nice to learn a skill,” said Bertell, a 31-year-old newly minted journeyman from Seattle. “This job gives you room to be creative in finding a solution.”

Goodnow, a 28-year-old from Seattle and another newly minted journeyman, added: “It was good to see how people got through this.”

“No matter what you go through, don’t give up,” said Royal, a Class of 2024 member.

Toward the end of the evening around 8:30 p.m. Cervantes sat at a table, enjoying a few moments of silence. He held and looked at the acrylic SPU graduation trophy with the City of Seattle logo, the word “congratulations,” and his name on it.

“It doesn’t feel real,” he said. “I knew I’d get here.”

Know someone who would like to learn more about SPU’s Apprenticeship Program? Read this SPU project webpage for details.