MATC graduates can help make Milwaukee great, city’s mayor says

Johnson delivers keynote address at college’s Spring Commencement

Mark Feldmann,

May 24, 2022

MILWAUKEE – Surveying a sea of soon-to-be Milwaukee Area Technical College graduates, Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson beamed with civic pride.

“Looking at you I see the future. I see Milwaukee’s future,” Johnson said. “You’ll be the homeowners, the parents, the respected neighbors, the responsible citizens who care about Milwaukee and where our community is headed.

“You are also the economic future of this city,” he added. “That’s because you’re prepared – prepared for the jobs that Milwaukee companies need to fill. Your graduation puts you on a path to build wealth, strengthen neighborhoods and add to the quality of life in our community.”

Johnson delivered the keynote address at MATC’s Spring Commencement on Sunday, May 22 at Fiserv Forum. Nearly 1,400 students were honored as candidates for graduation from the college’s associate degree, technical diploma, apprentice and Adult High School programs. The commencement was attended by graduates’ family and friends, and MATC’s administrators, Board members, faculty and staff.

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A native of Milwaukee, Johnson served on the Milwaukee Common Council before becoming the city’s first elected Black mayor in April 2022. 

Johnson, one of 10 siblings, grew up in Milwaukee’s inner city. His family moved frequently, and until middle school, Johnson attended a different Milwaukee public school almost every year. 

“Crime and violence were never far away,” he told the crowd.

After graduating from Bay View High School, Johnson earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He then worked for the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board (MAWIB), now Employ Milwaukee, assisting at-risk youth, youth entering the workforce for the first time, and adults retooling to enter the workforce. 

In 2016, Johnson was elected 2nd District alderman and reelected without opposition in 2020. He was also elected Common Council president. Johnson became acting mayor of Milwaukee upon the resignation of Tom Barrett to assume the ambassadorship of Luxembourg in December 2021. 

Johnson said he couldn’t have achieved any of that without the many role models who helped him along the way, making sure he stayed out of trouble and on the right path. 

“What I had around me were people who cared,” he said.

His father, a janitor, encouraged him to expand his horizons and not be content to stay on his block. His mother, a certified nursing assistant, exhorted him never to give up. Counselors at a neighborhood YMCA urged him to fill his life with purpose. His teachers gave him confidence and instilled him with a love of learning.

Johnson urged MATC’s graduates to become a similar role model for future generations. “Encourage others to follow your path – the same productive path you took,” he said. “I’m optimistic about Milwaukee’s future – our city’s future. We’re wrestling with some significant challenges, but the confidence I have moving forward is extremely high. And looking at you, you make it high.”

Wisconsin’s largest technical college and one of the most diverse two-year institutions in the Midwest, Milwaukee Area Technical College is a key driver of southeastern Wisconsin’s economy and has provided innovative education in the region since 1912. More than 25,000 students per year attend the college’s four campuses and community-based sites or learn online. MATC offers affordable and accessible education and training opportunities that empower and transform lives in the community. The college offers more than 170 academic programs; and transfer options leading to bachelor’s degrees with more than 40 four-year colleges and universities. Overwhelmingly, MATC graduates build careers and businesses in southeastern Wisconsin. The college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.