MANATEE -- A total of 1,660 Manatee Technical Institute graduates walked across the stage Sunday at the Bradenton Area Convention Center to receive diplomas and many proudly wore gold, silver and bronze medals around their necks.
The medals -- 62 of them -- were won in the past few days at the 2013 National Skills USA Championship in Kansas City, Mo.
For the 10th year in a row, MTI won more medals than any other school at National Skills USA, which ran June 24-28, MTI director Mary Cantrell announced at the top of the graduation ceremony.
"When we show up, we expect to hog-tie 'em, brand 'em and show them whose boss," an excited Cantrell said to thunderous whoops of applause.
MTI's amazing streak of success at National Skills USA is due to a commitment made in 1996 when Cantrell came aboard, said Maura Howl, MTI grants specialist.
"During her first year, Mary worked with us to create a vision and mission statement for our school," Howl said. "That vision was to be nationally recognized for our technical and education programs, for our industry-driven curriculum and for a state-of-the-art facility. She saw Skills USA as a way to become nationally recognized. Little by little, more teachers came on board with it, and more students, and now it is just part of our school culture."
MTI's largest medal count in any one year was 97, Howl said.
Greyhawk Landing grad
Scott Robinson earned a degree in massage therapy, an achievement of a magnitude that few, aside from his parents and close friends, prob
Robinson was arrested three times in his mid-teens. He later dropped out of Lakewood Ranch High School.
"I used to be a criminal," the brutally honest Robinson says of himself. "Now, I am a massage therapist. I used to hang out and do drugs every day and break into cars. I have been arrested for all of it. Now, everything is good and my life is a lot different."
Robinson's life went downhill when his family moved from California four years ago to the Greyhawk Landing subdivision in East Manatee, he said.
"I was just mad," Robinson said. "I used to live where I could walk anywhere and now I lived in a subdivision."
His anger played out by getting in trouble.
"When we got here he refused to leave the house for three months," Scott's mother, Diane Robinson, said of her son. "As soon as he did he caused problems with other kids."
Suddenly, he stopped going down one path and took another. He earned his GED and began investigating MTI programs.
"I liked the fact that you are helping people as a massage therapist," Robinson said. "We are in the trenches with people. The doctor often masks the symptoms with a pill. We try to find out what is really going on. We can feel stress."
Nancie Yonker, Robinson's massage therapy teacher, has called him one of her most gifted students.
When asked by school officials if any of her students had an inspirational story others may want to hear, she immediately suggested Robinson.
Diane Robinson is also in awe of her son's turnabout.
"I am so proud of him," Diane Robinson said. "I still don't really understand why he loves this. I would have never predicted massage therapy for him. But he is definitely strong. He has strong hands."
Scott Robinson has had some vision loss due to heredity a optic nerve disease since he was a teen, but he doesn't think it will hurt him in his new profession.
"My vision deficit probably makes my ability to touch better," said Robinson who relies almost solely on peripheral vision. "I can feel a lot more with my hands.
"I just got the paperwork and am waiting to take the test to get my license," Robinson added. "I don't have a job yet but I am sending out resumes."
Traci Adams, along with her parents and her husband, Shannon, went through an ordeal before graduation.
Adams, a Manatee Technical Institute student in the medical assisting program, started having stomach pains and she went to the hospital to get checked out as it became more serious.
She was admitted to Lakewood Ranch Medical Center for major abdominal surgery that kept her in intensive care for four days.
While recovering, the rest of her classmates were getting ready to attend the pinning ceremony to signify they are now full-fledged medical assistants.
Adams, who had spent the last 13 months preparing for the pinning, tried to talk doctors into letting her go but they wouldn't budge. So program director Jane Arnoldi and several students and faculty brought the pinning ceremony to her. They joined Adams and her family in the hospital to celebrate with a private ceremony.
Tears were shed by everyone in the room on this special day for Adams -- a day she said she will remember always.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, Ext. 6686.