Before a couple of months ago, Antoine Brathwaite never had driven a vehicle with a stick shift.

Friday morning, however, he was one of seven graduating from the A-OK program at Salina Area Technical College with both a GED and a commercial truck-driving license.

“I didn’t even know how to turn on the ignition,” Brathwaite said. “I’d never even driven a manual transmission before, but now to be behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler. It was hard.”

Brathwaite grew up in New York City, and moved to the Salina area to live with his brother, who was attending Bethany College.

He started attending Salina South High School, but when it was time for him to graduate, he was a half-credit short. He tried a couple of local programs to finish his diploma or earn his GED but didn’t finish.

A few months ago, he was working at Universal Forest Products in Salina, building pallets and packing crates, when he was laid off at the end of his shift on a Friday.

“I heard the ad on the radio about this as I was pulling out of the parking lot, and I came over right away, but everything was already closed,” he said.