“This is a very hard-working group and I am very proud of them. They continue moving forward,” says Baltazar De Anda Santana, the executive director of the Latino Academy of Workforce Development here in Madison. “This is a great opportunity for us to celebrate all of the hard work they’ve done.”
Every spring, the Latino Academy of Workforce Development hosts the GED & Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) Graduation Ceremony to celebrate the achievements of the students that graduated from their GED and CDL programs. Unfortunately, the in-person ceremony had to be canceled due to COVID-19.
“This Saturday will be the first-ever Latino Academy virtual CDL/GED Graduation,” De Anda Santana tells Madison365. “This graduation was supposed to happen on March 21. We had already invited the students and everybody was ready to celebrate, but we had to cancel 10 days before the graduation happened.”
All of the Latino Academy’s classes have gone virtual during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We felt that we really needed to have this graduation to recognize the great work the students have been doing,” De Anda Santana says.
The keynote speaker will be Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway who will deliver her talk in a video for the students. There will be remarks from current graduates and honored guests that will include community leaders Brenda Gonzalez, Joe Maldonado and Michelle Bozeman and employer Lycon Inc.
Graduating students will see their names on the screen and guests are encouraged to comment on Facebook and cheer students’ efforts. Madison musician Angela Puerta, originally from Colombia, will perform a song for the graduates.
“For this graduation, there are 14 CDL graduates and we have around 12 GED graduates,” De Anda Santana says. “We have sent gowns out to the students so they can celebrate graduation properly through zoom. It’s a great opportunity for the students to celebrate their hard work.”
Students obtain a Class A or Class B license as they complete the Latino Academy’s Commerical Driver’s License (CDL) program. Training includes federal and state regulations, safety procedures, loading and securing, air brake systems, and four weeks of driving practice.
The GED program prepares students for college-level courses and results in a high school equivalency. Students learn math, reading and language arts, social studies, science, and civics
Margarita Avila is the director of workforce development and helps lead up the programs. Years ago, De Anda Santana, who was one of the co-founders of the organization back in 2011, used to run those programs. Now his job is to find the money for those programs.
“We are hoping that the majority of students will be able to be at the online graduation. One cool thing that is going to be happening is that after graduation, the Latino Academy team will divide up and distribute certificates to the students throughout the day,” De Anda Santana says. “We will also be taking pictures outside of their houses and places of residency with their families. We really want to celebrate them and to be there in person for each one of the students.
“It will be a busy day – we have one student who lives in Wisconsin Dells. But we have the whole day on Saturday to go around and do this,” he adds.
De Anda Santana says the Latino Academy would like to extend an invitation to students and their family and friends to the virtual graduation ceremony, as well as to the community members whose commitment to the Latino Academy makes this success possible.
“For the majority of CDL students with that license, their next step is to get employment. We have great partners Lycon Inc. and Dane County Highway Department where they will be able to be placed in employment opportunities,” De Anda Santana says. “For the GED students, this will definitely help them to get a better job. Also, many of them are thinking of moving forward and taking some classes at Madison College.
It’s a big moment for these students in very difficult times.
“One of the things during the COVID-19 pandemic is that our students have demonstrated that they work hard and are creative and they have that tenacity to do things,” De Anda Santana says. “Some of these students lost their job [during the pandemic] but they still continue to work hard to improve themselves. I am very impressed by them and proud of them.”