Story by: Mike Zitz

Caeden Ribel was a top student who loved working with his hands. By the time he graduated from James Monroe High School in 2020, he knew in his heart that was what he was meant to do.

But he told a crowd of nearly 3,000 at Germanna's fall commencement that he’d been told over and over growing up that getting a bachelor’s degree was crucial to success. What if you know that’s not for you?

“I had spent the past decade of my life hearing from so many people that once you graduate from high school, you only have two choices. Option one being attending a four-year university, the only path to success. Option two being immediately joining the workforce.
I was so confused. Why couldn’t someone do both?”
Caeden Ribel
Germanna graduate

Ribel decided he would start working full time as an electrician to get practical experience while taking night classes in Workforce Development at Germanna.

At the fall commencement ceremony on December 13, 2023, he became the first student from Germanna to graduate with an associate degree in Technical Studies with a focus on Industrial Electrical Maintenance. He was one of 1,204 graduates who completed 1,585 associate degrees, certificates, and Career Studies Certificates, as well as 80 students completing 80 workforce credentials at the ceremony.

He graduated from James Monroe High School with an advanced diploma and ranked in the top 10% of his class. Immediately after, he began working as an electrician through the Virginia Apprenticeship Program and started attending classes at Germanna.

In fall of 2021, Ribel was awarded the Mike Rowe Work Ethics Scholarship — the only recipient from Virginia — and has used the scholarship to pursue and complete an Engineering Technology Career Studies Certificate and a Computer-Aided Drafting and Design Career Studies Certificate.

He is also a member of the CTE Core Action Committee for Fredericksburg City Public Schools and is a strong advocate for career and technical education in its curriculum. He plans to sit for his journeyman’s exam in January and pursue his master’s license.

“As a kid, I would always sit in school and wonder what made things work. Sometimes, I would sit there if I got bored and start drawing things that I could make at home, whether it be building a new shelf or drawing up plans for a desk. I soon began to realize that I really enjoyed working with my hands.”
Caeden Ribel
Germanna graduate

“At Germanna, I was trying to figure out what degree would best correlate with what I wanted to do as an electrician,” Ribel said. He started with electrical engineering. “I soon realized that spending about 75% of my free time trying to learn calculus while also working 40 to 45 hours a week was more challenging than I had anticipated.”

He pivoted to the Engineering Technology Certificate, as well as the Computer-Aided Drafting and Design Career Studies Certificate.

“I eventually was drawn to the Technical Studies associate degree, a primary focus was Industrial Electrical Maintenance. The more I dug into that program, the more I learned how it was such a good fit for what I wanted to do,” Ribel said. “Many of the workforce classes I had already taken counted as credit toward the degree, and, as I had completed both certificates and completed many of the General Education Classes for the degree itself, I realized I was only a few classes away from completing my goal.”

Watch Ribel's commencement speech below.

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