The AJAC Class of 2024 at The Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington

65 Graduates Walk at Annual Commencement Ceremony

2024 AJAC Graduation at The Museum of Flight

Families celebrate at AJAC's 2024 graduation ceremony.

A Night of Celebration and Reflection

Seattle, June 14, 2024 – On a beautiful Friday evening, the Museum of Flight was abuzz with excitement and pride as families, friends, and industry leaders gathered to celebrate the 2024 AJAC Apprenticeship Graduation. This significant event honored the dedication and hard work of graduates who have completed their apprenticeships, marking a crucial milestone in their professional journeys.

Opening Remarks by Lynn
Demetria “Lynn” Strickland, AJAC’s Executive Director, set the tone for the evening with a warm welcome. She expressed heartfelt gratitude to the apprentices, their families, the employers, and the many sponsors and partners who made the evening possible. Reflecting on the journey of the graduates, Lynn emphasized the unique challenges they faced, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, which necessitated a shift to online learning.

“We have come to recognize the benefits online learning has in rural communities, allowing greater access to AJAC programs statewide,” Lynn remarked. She celebrated the resilience of the graduates who managed to balance their demanding apprenticeships with personal commitments, showcasing their dedication and commitment to becoming skilled professionals in advanced manufacturing.

Lynn reflected throughout the ceremony on the importance of apprenticeship programs in developing a skilled workforce. “As we have returned to a ‘new normal,’ we call on these graduating apprentices to be leaders, mentors, and role models in the ever-evolving advanced manufacturing industries,” she stated. Lynn also highlighted the impressive growth of the program since its inception, noting, “Our first graduation ceremony started in 2014 with 24 apprentices representing 10 different employers. This year we’re proud to have nearly tripled these numbers with 65 apprentices from 32 different companies!”

2024 marked the first year AJAC graduates apprentices from two new occupations which launched earlier last year. “Tonight we also welcome our first apprentice graduates from our new Logistics Specialist and Operations Specialist programs. These apprentices will directly support frontline and warehouse workers who want to build up additional credentials focused on logistics and supply chain management while developing a pathway into leadership roles,” Lynn said.

Makeba Priester: A Journey of Growth and Learning
Makeba Priester, a proud graduate of the Industrial Manufacturing Technician apprenticeship at Thermoforming Systems in Yakima, Washington, shared her inspiring journey. Beginning her career in manufacturing in April 2022 and starting her apprenticeship that September, Makeba highlighted the invaluable support she received from her mentors and coworkers.

“Jerry Morrow, my lead, taught me the essentials of tool usage, blueprint reading, and building complex machinery,” Makeba said, praising the patience and detailed explanations that were crucial to her learning. She also spoke fondly of the classroom work, particularly the mechatronics and communications classes, which deepened her understanding and enhanced her skills.

Makeba reflected on the immense pride and joy she felt in her work. “Driving forklifts and building functional machine parts was thrilling. These skills have increased my value, often surprising those around me with my abilities,” she shared. Her story was a testament to the transformative power of hands-on learning and mentorship.

Nikki Malcom: The Three C’s of Success
The keynote speaker, Nikki Malcom, CEO & Executive Director of the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance (PNAA), talked about her journey in aerospace, inspired by her father’s work ethic and curiosity, provided valuable lessons for the graduates.

She introduced the “three C’s” that shaped her career: Curiosity, Care for the job, and Community. Nikki emphasized the importance of continuous learning and curiosity in driving innovation and success in the aerospace industry. “Curiosity drives innovation and continuous improvement,” she noted, urging graduates to keep asking questions and seeking deeper knowledge.

Nikki also highlighted the significance of caring deeply about one’s work and taking pride in it. “No matter what role you play, take pride in your work. Every task contributes to our industry’s success and your personal sense of accomplishment,” she said. She encouraged graduates to build strong communities within their professional networks, supporting and mentoring others along the way.

A Night of Celebration and Reflection

The evening was filled with moments of reflection and celebration. As Lynn introduced the graduates and their achievements, the audience applauded the remarkable dedication and perseverance demonstrated by each individual. From Automation Technicians to Logistics Specialists, the graduates represented a diverse array of skills and expertise, ready to make significant contributions to the manufacturing industry.

Lynn took a moment to acknowledge the critical role of instructors and partnering employers. “To the AJAC instructors, thank you for the time commitment, extraordinary instruction, and mentoring you have provided to our apprentices, especially these graduates here tonight. Many of you, like the apprentices, work full time, and the sharing of your vast knowledge and experience has helped shape these graduates into the highly skilled professionals they are today,” she said. She also recognized the employers who provide supervised on-the-job training, mentorship, and wage progressions. “These employers serve as the bedrock of our program, and because of their commitment to apprenticeship, these graduates are multi-skilled manufacturers with the confidence to work with a variety of equipment across multiple departments within their company.”

Looking Ahead
As the ceremony concluded, the graduates were reminded that their journey is far from over. With their newly acquired skills and knowledge, they are well-equipped to face future challenges and opportunities. The event at The Museum of Flight was not just a celebration of past achievements but a launchpad for future successes.

In the words of Makeba Priester, “Graduation is not the end but a beginning. In a rapidly changing world, continue to learn and adapt. Stay curious, humble, and open to new ideas and opportunities.” As these graduates embark on their next chapter, they carry with them the lessons learned, the challenges overcome, and an unwavering belief in their potential to shape the future of manufacturing.

Congratulations to the AJAC Class of 2024! Your future is bright, and it starts now.

A special thanks to the sponsors who made the event possible: Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance (PNAA), Northwest Aerospace News Magazine, Toolcraft Inc., Sierra Pacific Industries, Hexcel, and New Tech Industries. Their support helps AJAC continue its mission to build robust apprenticeship programs across Washington State and beyond.

To the AJAC Committee and Board, your leadership and guidance are invaluable. And to our partnering colleges and high schools, thank you for providing the facilities and resources necessary for our apprentices’ success.

Here’s to the graduates—your hard work and perseverance have paid off. We look forward to seeing where your journey takes you next!


Northwest Aerospace News Magazine
Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance (PNAA)
New Tech Industries Mukilteo Washington
Hexcel Kent, Washington
Sierra Pacific Industries company logo Shelton, Washington