Immediate chills. Instant tears. And, even more simply, complete happiness and an overwhelming sense of achievement.
Those in the audience at the Episcopal Church of St. Peter and St. Mary last week experienced all of that and more.
Work Options for Women’s fall 2013 graduation honored 23 students who completed our training and have been employed for at least three months. They proudly marched up the aisle to a roaring round of applause and cheers. Family, friends, case workers, chefs, teachers and the whole WOW staff were on hand for probably the biggest celebration in Denver Metro that night.
I sat in the audience as a soon-to-be member of the WOW staff as the new development and events coordinator. My supervisor Laurie Peterson, WOW’s director of development, invited me to the graduation not only so I could meet some of my future coworkers, but also see what the conclusion of WOW training for students looked like. And I was floored.
Just seeing the group of women and men walking into the chapel, surrounded by those who love and support them, solidified for me that I would be joining a really great, empowering family — one that comprises WOW staff, students and grads.
Each graduate was introduced by members of the staff and had some story told about their life before WOW, their time with our program and where they are currently employed. Among the speakers were Courtney Gross, case management supervisor; Julie Stone, director of operations; Craig Dixon, chef manager; and Kassi Newman, case manager. After each introduction, there was a swell of cheering, encouraged by the speakers. And each graduate received their diploma and a gift from WOW — a fresh set of kitchen knives.
With every story, the deep-down feeling I had — that I was witnessing something incredibly special — only grew. For many, this was their first graduation. You could tell they were truly proud of this moment. It was humbling to have been there to see their joy and accomplishments.
WOW staff also were acknowledged, along with the volunteers who make our program successful. It takes a village, after all. In particular, Kay Johnson, who has been teaching kitchen math to WOW students since January, was recognized for her passion for educating, her patience and energy in the classroom, and her ability to see the potential in every student.
Following the ceremony, graduates and their guests were invited to a dinner in the church’s hall. The best part, though, was the cake current students created for the fall 2013 graduates and decorated with sayings of encouragement like “Keep going!” and “Way to go!”
A sweet way to end the night for everyone involved.
WOW holds graduation every spring and fall for eligible students. Keep checking back for more inspiring updates from Work Options for Women.