Celebrating new beginnings: Latino Academy graduates largest class yet

Arbey Castillo celebrates his graduation from the Latino Academy of Workforce Development. Photo by Omar Waheed.

Hard work and steps to future success paid off as students of the Latino Academy of Workforce Development graduated this past Saturday.

The Latino Academy held a graduation for its GED and CDL students with its largest group to date at the Badger Prairie Needs Network in The Kasieta Center, where friends, family and community members came out in support for the bilingual graduation. This marks the first graduating class after the Latino Academy moved to its new location, 2909 Landmark Place, to meet the expanding needs of its community. The largest class yet shows proof of concept for its previous need to expand.

The graduation was serenaded by a current student of the Latino Academy with his saxophone.

A few members of the graduating class shared their experiences at the academy and their journey for the benefit of themselves and their families.

“I was out of work and sometimes they help financially a little to help cover your bills. I got there looking for Miss Rosario, she wasn’t there, and then Julio told me that they had this CDL program,” said Allan Tejada, a CDL graduate. “I took a chance. I went there.”

Tejada has worked in concrete for the past fifteen years when he came to the U.S. He had goals to become a foreman but could not find a way how. After being out of work, he heard about the CDL program the Latino Academy offers and decided to pursue it and further his career, but it was not without its difficulties.

“I had a hard experience at the beginning because you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into. When they gave me a… big book with like 300 pages, I was like ‘how am I going to get this book in my mind,’” Tejada said.

Regardless of his first impressions, he found that instructors and support from the Latino Academy was top notch to help him through the program.

The commencement speech came from the Department of Workforce Development’s equal rights administrators, Ramona Natera. She spent the time congratulating the graduates and spoke on the importance of the students in fostering a more equitable workforce in Madison.

“We are all here today to celebrate you for your accomplishments. Whether you are here because you earned your GED or Cpl. You did it and we commend you,” Natera said. “Like you know, the academy has prepared you for the workforce. They are a tremendous asset and you, Baltazar, serve as a beacon of hope and a promise that we make to these men and women today. For a better life through the positive experience and girls that comes from higher education,”

Baltazar De Anda Santana, co-founder and executive director of the Latino Academy, deflected the praise, as he often does. He said that there is no Latino Academy without the students and support of the community.

“We are here to celebrate your courage to receive it — to celebrate your new beginning. You are the reason why we are here. Without you this room will be empty,” Santana said. “Now I’m going to talk from the heart. I always tell folks when you come to our graduation, you are going to fall in love with the Latino Academy.”

The graduation was dedicated in honor of Juan Jose Lopez, who passed away last month. A moment of silence was held to mourn the loss of one of the Wisconsin Latine community’s strongest beacons for a better life.