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Graduation is Good Business

CJT Class 125 celebrates after receiving their diplomas at the RISE Demonstration Center on Monday, September 27, 2021.

It was an inspiring afternoon on Monday, September 27th as 19 graduates filed into the DC RISE Demonstration Center to receive their official diplomas for completing our Culinary Job Training (CJT) program. Class 125, sponsored by Raytheon Technologies, included our 2,000th CJT graduate. Clad in crisp new white coats and toques, our graduates reflected their resiliency honed throughout their training and the joy of a job well done during the ceremony.

The third graduating class of the pandemic, Class 125 was our first hybrid graduation with a limited number of DCCK staff and Class 126 in attendance and loved ones safely watching our livestream from home. Alumni speaker Michael Hall, a 2018 CJT graduate and manager at PLNT Burger, shared his journey from DC group homes to managing multiple locations of Spike Mendelsohn’s vegan-friendly fast casual concept. Vice President of Global Public Policy at Raytheon Technologies, Sally Sullivan, delivered the keynote address, reminding our graduates, “Every successful person has something in common – they didn’t get there on their own.”

Personal hardships, including the deaths of family members, single parenting, and lengthy commutes, on top of a continued global pandemic tested these students and their will to learn. But in the end, they persevered, supporting each other along the way making their triumph as CEO Mike Curtin noted, “all the more remarkable.”

Graduate Tamira G. embodied the kitchen’s “Don’t Make Excuses. Make Adjustments,” motto with her reflection on the CJT program, saying, “It was hard. You work eight-hour days with people you may or may not like. There’s a lot of different personalities involved. But I really think it was worth it. It helped me get better.” Classmate Willie B., who initially “just wasn’t ready [for CJT],” discovered a newfound sense of peace from cooking. “I’m actually good at it, too!”

DCCK founder Robert Egger also made an appearance to present the Robert Egger Good Business Award, an honor that recognizes an individual who went above and beyond to embody the spirit and purpose of DC Central Kitchen. This session’s award went to CJT Chef Instructor Ablawa Ajavon, lovingly called Chef Mimi by students and staff alike, for her contagious enthusiasm, commitment, and leadership as a culinary arts instructor. Special recognitions also went to Britney R. for Most Valuable Player; Maria G. received the ‘Sunshine’ Award; Jashon W. earned Most Improved; the Ron Swanson Life Skills Award went to Marquise W.; and Mykel T. was chosen by his peers as Class Representative.

So far, 12 of our 19 graduates from Class 125 have secured jobs either within DCCK programs or area businesses, demonstrating why our CJT program continues to work. “We are in the business of creating opportunity, empowerment, and equity. That is what the Kitchen is all about,” CEO Mike Curtin reminded us in his closing remarks.

That’s good business indeed.