The Apprentice School Class of 2018 Commencement Ceremony

By Jennifer Boykin, president, Newport News Shipbuilding (as written)
Newport News Shipbuilding
Jennifer Boykin Speaks at the 2019 Apprentice School Commencement

Thank you, Charles … and  CONGRATULATIONS Class of 2018!

I’d like to take a moment to thank Congressman Bobby Scott and Dr. Jill Biden for taking time out of their busy schedules to be with us today. Congressman Scott has been a friend to our shipyard and our shipbuilders for many years, and his participation in our ceremony is another example of his steadfast support.

Dr. Biden is a little bit newer to the world of shipbuilding …I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know her during the construction of the submarine Delaware, for which she is the ship’s sponsor. I can tell you that her passion for and her commitment to our shipbuilders and to education is unwavering…And that is evident by her participation here today.

Thank you both for joining us.

Graduates…Today is YOUR day and I could not be prouder of you and your many accomplishments. You have worked hard to be here. You have demonstrated dedication, determination and sacrifice to walk across this stage. Throughout your apprenticeship, you’ve had the opportunity to experience many facets of the shipyard…To work on different projects, in different locations and with different people. 

You’ve had the opportunity to build. To build relationships … To build experiences … And to build your future.

Notice, however, I did not say anything about building ships … Because what you build is even stronger than steel. 

The father of our nation, George Washington, once said: “Every post is honorable in which a man can serve his country." I would only add to that, a man or a woman.

And no matter what your post – whether you are in Carriers, Submarines, Engineering or Planning …To casually say that you build ships falls woefully short of how you serve the United States of America.

I’m challenging you to think bigger. You are Apprentice School Builders – 157 strong.

You build diplomacy…You build democracy … You build freedom!

You are our future, and our legacy is in your capable hands. 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. Thank you, and keep on building! 

I now have the distinct honor to present an award in memory of a leader whose legacy includes The Apprentice School. One hundred years ago, then-shipyard president Homer L. Ferguson took action on his steadfast belief in the importance of workforce development and created what we now know as The Apprentice School.

I’m sure Mr. Ferguson would be proud to know that workforce development remains a top priority of our company. And that 100 years later, The Apprentice School continues to prosper.

The Homer L. Ferguson Award is presented to the graduate with the highest average in combined required academic and craft grades. This year’s recipient has already demonstrated qualities of a true leader. He began his shipbuilding career as a Heavy Metal Fabricator apprentice. And today, he is helping build the John F. Kennedy aircraft carrier by providing engineering deck plate support for propulsion plant electrical systems.

He has worked on rotation as a construction supervisor in our Steel Production Facility. And as a makeup foreman in the Steel Fabrication Shop. He has served on a Safety Task Team … as an engagement champion … as a delegate, bylaws chair and co-chair of the Apprentice School Student Association, and as football manager. And as you heard earlier, he is one of our Niels Christiansen award winners for craftsmanship. You will hear from him a little later.

This top graduate and I also have something in common. Like me, he’s a “first” in our company’s history. And, I can tell you that being a “first” for Newport News Shipbuilding has a greater impact on others than you may ever realize. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you the Class of 2018 Homer L. Ferguson Award winner …

And the first African-American to earn the award …Kevin McNeill.


It is now my distinct pleasure to introduce a leader who serves as our voice in congress. He is chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor…And he is currently serving his 13th term in the U.S. House of Representatives. Newport News Shipbuilding is very proud to be located in his district. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Congressman Bobby Scott.

About HII

HII is a global, all-domain defense partner, building and delivering the world’s most powerful, survivable naval ships and technologies that safeguard our seas, sky, land, space and cyber. As America’s largest shipbuilder and with a more than 135-year history of advancing U.S. national defense, we are united by our mission in service of the heroes who protect our freedom. HII’s diverse workforce includes skilled tradespeople; artificial intelligence, machine learning (AI/ML) experts; engineers; technologists; scientists; logistics experts; and business professionals. Headquartered in Virginia, HII’s workforce is 44,000 strong. For more information, visit: