NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A class of 10 New Yorker masonry workers had a very special graduation in a somewhat surprising place: A cemetery.

They are the next generation of masonry workers who will help preserve New York City’s historic structures, reports CBS2’s Valerie Castro.

It’s a proud moment for Michael Nikolaras, walking up to receive a certificate of completion next to the 19th century mausoleum he recently helped restore.

“You feel it, literally in your hands when you’re working there, you can see the old materials they used and our materials and have to match it,” he said. “(It) has its own meaning behind every block.”

Along with nine others, the 25-year-old Bay Ridge man spent weeks fixing up the mausoleum.

“Historic restoration is a whole new world for me, a lot more meaning to your work than any other construction,” said Nikolaras.

The project was part of their intensive training program in masonry restoration at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. In total, they spent 10 weeks learning the ins and out of the business, including stone setting.

“When I see something that doesn’t look right on another building, I point it out, now that I know the information from here, that I never noticed before,” said Zion Brown of the Parkchester section of the Bronx.

Now that they have graduated, they will soon be the ones helping preserve history

“We are seeing historic buildings get restored every day, so just being able to do that work every day is great,” said Neela Wickremesinghe, restoration manager at Green-Wood Cemetery.

Wickremesinghe is the one who founded this program using what’s at the graveyard to develop their skills.

“Historic cemeteries are the perfect place to learn,” she said. “We have small versions or large historic stone structures that you see in every city in America.”

The students say the work was grueling, but worth it.

“Not a lot of people get to experience fixing old structures like this, so to be able to say I fixed something from the 1860s, is quite an honor,” said Joscelyne Diaz.

The graduates are now eligible to take union exams, get jobs in the trades, or pursue higher education in fields like architecture.

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