Today was one of those “special days.”  Why?  Because today was the graduation luncheon for the “Year Up” apprentices in the greater Washington, DC area.

Held at the Capitol Hilton (near the White House), this was the fourth graduation luncheon I’ve attended over the past two years.  And, we need to keep getting bigger and bigger ballrooms since each class keeps getting larger.

What is “Year Up?”  Per their website, “Year Up is a one-year, intensive training program that provides urban young adults 18-24, with a unique combination of technical and professional skills, college credits, an educational stipend and corporate apprenticeship.Our success is our graduates — enabling them to move on to full-time employment and higher education. Year Up is about providing opportunities for urban young adults to demonstrate their true potential.”

I’ve been a strong supporter of AOL’s efforts of this terrific organization, led by the brilliant Tynesia Boyea Robinson.  I was fortunate enough to be an “Urban Empowerment” award winner last year — but I share this award with the many terrific AOL co-workers who have helped build this into a terrific partnership.  In fact, we’ve been told we’re the “model DC organization” for the Year Up students.

My congratulations go to this semester’s AOL apprentices — Eric, Ahmed, Jose and Melinda.   To see their growth, maturity and increase in confidence has been remarkable.   Ahmed delivered one of the three student speeches today that drew standing ovations and tears of happiness and joy (I’m not ashamed to admit that the tears flow).

On a personal note, late last February, my beloved Father passed away.  I was out of the office for a few days to tend to personal matters as well as going through a grieving process.   My first day back to work was the following Monday … I wasn’t sure how I would feel about being back in the office.  But, the first two people I saw that day were two Year Up apprentices in our HQ lobby — they were there because it was Orientation Day and it was their first day as a new full-time employee.  So, right away, they brightened my day and made me glad and proud to be back at work.  It showed we could make a strong, positive difference in their lives.  And, they in turn gave me back so much more … an eagerness to grow and learn.

Thank you, Year Up.  Thanks to the staff, apprentices and supporters.