After six weeks of early mornings, intense classroom studies and long days working on four separate solar installation jobs, 14 participants in the Solar Works D.C. program stepped onto the stage at the D.C. Infrastructure Academy to receive their graduation certificate on the morning of Aug. 4.
“We’re here not because you need us, but because the solar industry needs you,” said Elijah Perry, executive director of GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic, the solar energy nonprofit that heads up the workforce development program.
“Commend yourselves for even being part of not just a class, I would say, not a program, but a movement—a movement to create a more diverse solar industry, a more equitable solar industry and most of all, a more inclusive solar industry,” Perry said.
The initial cohort signed up to participate in the intensive solar industry training program included almost 40 people, many of them recent high school graduates joining through the D.C. Summer Youth Employment Program, GRID Mid-Atlantic rep Danny Jones said.
“These are the ones who stuck it out,” said Gary Bell, one of the graduates, gesturing around the auditorium at his peers, who exchanged hugs and daps throughout the celebration.
The 14 graduates did not sit in the crowd alone—many of their partners and parents showed up to cheer in support. In addition to Perry, speakers at the graduation included representatives from the D.C. Infrastructure Academy, the D.C. Department of Energy and the Environment, and nationally-recognized solar instructor Sean White, who provided training for the group during the last week of the class.
The cohort’s two supervisors from GRID Mid-Atlantic, Kennard Carter and Dominique Leake (affectionately referred to as ‘Mama Doma’), also spoke briefly about each individual graduate before calling them to the stage to get their certificates.
“It was an honor to work with each and every one of you, like to see from the first day to now, I have seen the growth of each and every one of y’all,” Leake said.
But on top of speeches from those in charge, the graduation broke with the “typical” ceremony routine by inviting each graduate to the stage to share their own words. For some, it was an emotional moment.
“This is important to me, and a lot of y’all helped me get through this,” one graduate said, choking up a little bit. “[You] helped me get through it to see that I could do something else other than the way I used to live… Solar saved my life.”
Solar Works D.C. is a paid six-week program that hires D.C. residents on a rolling basis. If you’re interested, learn more and apply at: gridalternatives.org/regions/midatlantic/solar-works-dc.