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NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (Feb. 23, 2019)–Huntington Ingalls Industries (NYSE:HII) hosted commencement exercises on Saturday for 157 graduates of The Apprentice School at Newport News Shipbuilding. The ceremony was held at Liberty Baptist Church Worship Center in Hampton.

The ringing of a ceremonial bell by each of the 2018 graduates represented the completion of their apprenticeship, a rigorous four- to eight-year program designed to develop the next generation of shipyard leaders. The Apprentice School, which first opened in 1919 with 126 apprentices, is celebrating its centennial anniversary this year. Over the last 100 years, the school has produced more than 10,800 graduates.

In her commencement address, Jill Biden, the Second Lady of the United States from 2009 to 2017, honorary co-chair of the Biden Foundation and community college professor, congratulated the new class of apprentices and lauded their hard-earned skills.

“You are starting a new journey, one where you are a part of a family with a hundred years of historic accomplishments, one that will continue to shape America’s future,” Biden said. “While there will be times where you face challenges, you should never forget that your work is needed and revered by so many.”

Newport News Shipbuilding President Jennifer Boykin told the graduates that their contributions are far greater than building ships.

“To casually say that you build ships falls woefully short of how you serve the United States of America,” Boykin said. “I’m challenging you to think bigger. You build diplomacy, you build democracy, and you build freedom. You are our future, and our legacy is in your capable hands.


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Jill Biden, the former Second Lady of the United States, delivers commencement address at The Apprentice School graduation. Photo by Ashley Cowan/HII

“I have no doubt that the dedication, determination and sacrifice that led to your success today will ensure our collective success tomorrow and for centuries to come,” she said.

Kevin McNeill of Greensboro, N.C., received the Homer L. Ferguson Award, which recognizes the apprentice graduating with the highest honors. He is the first African-American student in the school’s history to earn the special recognition.

McNeill, who first graduated from North Carolina A&T State University with a degree in electrical engineering, told graduates about living out their own mission.

“I never intended to work as a steel fabrication apprentice, but I’ve gained experiences and opportunities that I may not have received elsewhere,” he said. “I’ve learned a great deal of discipline and patience. My message for you today is: If you’re not where you want to be in your career or you feel like you’ve strayed off track from your goals, know that each experience is what makes you unique. The path to our destination is never straight. Keep walking with a purpose.”

The following is a profile of the 2018 graduating class:

  • 94 earned honors, a combination of academic and craft grades that determine overall performance.
  • 88 completed an optional, advanced program, earning an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. The program includes coursework in subjects such as marine design, production planning, modeling and simulation, and marine engineering. Of that number, 77 earned an associate’s degrees from Thomas Nelson Community College or Tidewater Community College; 11 earned bachelor’s degrees from Old Dominion University.
  • 35 completed Advanced Shipyard Operations Program, allowing them to continue their post-secondary education, expand their experience in waterfront operations and develop leadership skills to improve the quality and efficiency of production, manufacturing and maintenance processes.
  • 30 completed the program with a perfect 4.0 grade point average in the required academic curriculum.
  • 30 completed Frontline FAST, an accelerated skills training program for potential foremen.
  • 23 graduates are women.
  • 16 earned athletic awards.
  • 14 are military veterans or are currently serving in the National Guard or military reserves.

The Apprentice School accepts about 225 apprentices per year. The school offers four- to eight-year, tuition-free apprenticeships in 19 trades and eight optional advanced programs. Apprentices work a 40-hour week and are paid for all work, including time spent in academic classes. Through partnerships with Thomas Nelson Community College, Tidewater Community College and Old Dominion University, The Apprentice School’s academic program provides the opportunity to earn associate degrees in business administration, engineering and engineering technology and bachelor’s degrees in mechanical or electrical engineering.

About Huntington Ingalls Industries

Huntington Ingalls Industries is America’s largest military shipbuilding company and a provider of professional services to partners in government and industry. For more than a century, HII’s Newport News and Ingalls shipbuilding divisions in Virginia and Mississippi have built more ships in more ship classes than any other U.S. naval shipbuilder. HII’s Technical Solutions division provides a wide range of professional services through its Fleet Support, Mission Driven Innovative Solutions, Nuclear & Environmental, and Oil & Gas groups. Headquartered in Newport News, Virginia, HII employs more than 40,000 people operating both domestically and internationally. For more information, visit:

Danny Hernandez
Director of Public Affairs
(202) 580-9086
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