John Zehnick took off his New York Yankees hat to put on his new team’s cap. After he signed his name, he was handed a jersey – red with blue pinstripes.

“I’m sorry that this is Red Sox colors,” John Alterio joked. Zehnick put the jersey up to himself with a wide grin all the same.
Rather than a college or professional sports team, Zehnick was ceremonially signing to join the staff at Ruge’s Auto Group after graduating from Dutchess BOCES’ Automotive program. He was among 21 students who signed with companies and other agencies Thursday, and among 50 who were presented with awards, at BOCES’ inaugural combined awards ceremony and senior signing day.
BOCES Career and Technical Institute Principal Nick Millas told the room the school’s goal is not only to give students the tools to get an entry-level job, but to “raise the bar” once their foot is in the door.
“Our vision here is to turn out a workforce, and not just workers but good citizens, good community members, people who care about where they live, where they work, their neighbors,” Millas said. “I think the representation in this room speaks to that.”
BOCES last year held its first signing day, but as a separate event from its longtime annual awards day. This year the events were combined, as administrators saw many of the students who had lined up employment were among those earning awards.
Sharon Myers, BOCES’ work-based learning coordinator and organizer of the event, said it’s important to celebrate both the students who are on their way to college and those who are entering industries.
“We have college signings, we have athletic signings – these kids are going to go start their livelihoods and they’re going to be part of the community we live and work in every day,” Myers said. “Most of the students from here know what they want to do when they leave here.”
In addition to the students honored, family and friends were in attendance, as well as representatives from many of the businesses and organizations welcoming the graduating students. Before the award presentations began, they were treated to a buffet-style breakfast prepared by BOCES’ culinary students.
Among the awards, Maia Dorfman and Ajeya Davis were given Dutchess BOCES Educational Awards as the valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively. The awards honored excellence in CTI’s different educational fields, as well as community- and internship-based scholarships.
Many of the industry representatives presenting the awards were BOCES graduates themselves, such as Cynthia Moore, owner of Eclectic Hair Studio. She signed cosmetology student Kyanna Moore (no relation) to join the business. Cynthia Moore said she saw the Hyde Park student mature during an eight-week mentorship program.
 “I just feel good about myself,” Kyanna Moore said of the morning, noting finding employment after CTI “was what I was pushing for.
“Everybody always feels great after getting their hair done,” she said. “I just want to embrace that.”
In addition to trades fields and businesses, nine students on Thursday celebrated joining branches of the military armed with such skills as electrical, welding and nursing training. Three entering the U.S. Army were presented oversized checks representing the federal benefit they would receive for continuing education.
Zehnick was among three joining Ruge’s. Each previously interned with the company under a relationship between Ruge’s and the school. Alterio said Ruge’s also hired three students a year ago and has been pleased with the quality of the employees, noting CTI gives them the basic skills of working on automobiles before their internships.
Zehnick, a Rhinebeck student, said he was happy to join Ruge’s, which he said has a family atmosphere. He praised CTI for setting him on the right path.
“When I came in, I was a little bit of a knucklehead,” Zehnick said, crediting teacher Jason Imperiale. “Mr. I definitely straightened me out a lot and put me on the right track, and showed me this is what you have to do to get where you want to be. A great part of my success was him being my teacher.”