Graduating students from the Asian American Civic Association’s (AACA) ESOL and job training programs shared stories of struggle and success during the programs’ annual graduation ceremony at Tufts Medical Center Woolf Auditorium on June 25th.
Keynote speaker and Director of the Mayor’s Office of New Bostonians Reverend Cheng Imm Tan emphasized the importance of immigrants at the graduation, reminding the audience that immigrants are the “soul of the city and the country.” Tan also shared anecdotes that reflected the uncertain moments of her own immigrant experience when she moved to the United States thirty-two years ago.
She congratulated students for finding their way to AACA and reminded graduating students that their successes not only benefits themselves but also “the whole country” because “immigrants constitute more and more of the workforce.”
According to Tan, in Boston alone, immigrants earn 4 billion dollars and generate 1.2 billion in state and federal taxes. Immigrants own 5,700 small businesses creating over 1,300 jobs. Additionally, 61% of new entrepreneurs are immigrants.
Tan advised the graduating class and families to engage in the communities – something that should be a top priority.
“If you are not seen, if your children are not seen, you will not get what you need. While it’s important to take steps to succeed economically, you need to get involved and understand what your kids are going through in school. Get involved in the community. As [President of AACA] Mary Chin was saying: give back, give back, give back.”
Students also spoke about their experiences in AACA’s programs during the ceremony.
Student speaker Roger Cooper, a recent graduate from the Partnership for Automotive Career Education Program (PACE), was moved to tears as he described his journey
through the program. “When I first started the program I was broke. [Director of PACE] Jill Uchiyama worked very hard with me to get through the program. I almost dropped out due to my financial issues, but she helped me out. I was the first one in my class to find a job out of fifteen students. I learned how to change tires, improved my skills in breaks, and learned new things every day. Things have gotten better since I started the program. Through this program I gained new friends and new connections and made a new career for myself. I never knew what I wanted to do in my life until I worked on my first car.”
Uchiyama attested to Cooper’s success, noting that his boss, Paul Dickson at Sullivan Tires in Watertown, commented that he and Gilberto Ortiz, another PACE graduate, “were the best guys he had.”
Program Manager Kristan Camp told the story of a man named Abdul Jalil Abdul Karim. Once a lawyer in Afghanistan, Abdul Karim was working in food service at a local hotel until he enrolled in classes at AACA. After completing the Adult Basic Education English Transitional Program (ABE) and then the Accounting Skills, Computer
and English Training program (ASCENT), he is now an employee in a Human Resources department.
Concluding the event, Brian Butler, owner and founder of Boston Green Building, spoke about the developing partnership between AACA and his company. As part of the partnership, Boston Green Building hosted interns from AACA’s Building Energy Efficient Maintenance Skills program (BEEMS).
“We were very thrilled with our intern. It was a learning curve at first but it was a great experience. We look forward to bringing more AACA trainees into our organization. We’re really excited about the program,” Butler said.
Natalie Ornell is a Sampan correspondent.
This post is also available in: Chinese