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Class 126 Graduation: The Power of a Positive Example

Students from Class 126 watch a presentation about their time in the CJT program at graduation on Friday, December 8, 2021.

On the first Friday in December, 12 impressive, tenacious graduates took the stage to receive their hard-earned diplomas from our Culinary Job Training (CJT) program. Friends and families cheered loudly from their seats in the Town Hall Education Arts and Recreation Center (THEARC)’s Theater, making DC Central Kitchen’s first in-person graduation in two years a triumphant one. As CEO Mike Curtin told the crowd, “We call them graduates today, but what they really are is leaders. Role models. They are the people who inspire us.” 

To make it to graduation day, the 12 leaders on that stage had to overcome enormous challenges, empower themselves, and trust the process. Each graduate had to find a way to “rumble with the fear, rumble with the doubt,” CJT Class 112 alumnus, Alexander Campbell remarked. His moving speech, which drew on his post-DC Central Kitchen journey to Georgetown University’s Pivot Program and successes as a playwright and screenwriter, reminded our graduates that “you all are something special beyond even what you can imagine.” 

After 12 weeks of intensive training and tests both within the classroom and outside of it, Class 126 could finally lay down their kitchen utensils and celebrate a hard-won accomplishment. “We are here. Three words that seem so simple, but for this class, mean everything. This class has so much potential. In front of me, I see Michelin-starred chefs. I see future celebrity chefs. I see fantastic food truck owners. I see non-profit leaders,” declared graduate and Class 126 Representative Latisha W. 

The culinary industry needs powerful leaders. It needs leaders tapping into their power – both individually and collectively – and using that power to set a positive example for themselves and others. It needs leaders like Class 126. No one captured this urgency more than Mieka Wick, Executive Director of The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation. “There’s no question that the hospitality industry is at a critical nexus. You are the next leaders of this industry, and this industry is hungry for you,” she said in a special video message. 

The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation, Class 126 sponsor and long-time DCCK supporter, contributed to our graduates’ growth from day one by inviting the class to tour The Gaylord National Resort and assisting in the judging process of our chili cook-off. Marriott’s Kori Johnson delivered a strong keynote message rooted in her experiences with six Marriott brands and ultimate rise to General Manager of the Renaissance in downtown DC, reminding our graduates of the power of their potential. “Today, you earn your accreditation from DC Central Kitchen, and that lets employers like myself know that you are ready,” she said. 

With graduation behind them, Class 126 will now step into new roles, ready to set a positive example in their future endeavors and leaving our audience with a sense of faith in the future. “I hope we all remember that feeling we have now. That power of faith. The belief that things can be better,” said CEO Mike Curtin in his closing remarks. 

Thanks to Class 126’s positive example of courage, strength, and grace under pressure, we have kept that faith in a better future.

More photos from the day can be found on our flickr.