Thousands of students graduate every year, but one Manatee Technical College graduate cried as she shared why her graduation was once a dream.
A total of 146 graduates from several career programs crossed the stage at MTC and posed for photos during Thursday’s ceremony. The room was filled with loved ones who cheered as the names of graduates were called and as they later turned their tassels.
Rochelle Thompson, 29, graduated with a facials specialty and stood before the audience of hundreds of her fellow graduates family and friends. Through tears, she told the story of how this day was once just a figment of her imagination.
This time last year, she was a single mother of two who just left an abusive relationship and was struggling with addiction. Thompson and her two sons were living with her mother, Brenda Thompson, who cared for her grandsons while their mother earned her education.
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In April 2016, Thompson said, she ran into an old friend from school. The friend encouraged her to go get help for her addiction at His Girls Discipleship, a faith-based recovery program for women.
Since then, things have been looking up. Thompson said God has taken control of her life and led her down the path she’s on now. In August, she started at Manatee Technical College — and Thursday, she was speaking at her graduation ceremony, thanking those who helped her along the way.
But even school was not without struggles. After entering the cosmetology program, her first day in facials Thompson knew it was where she was meant to be. She went to her financial adviser to get help switching majors.
“As I’m sitting there sweating bullets, praying silently, she walks in with a long face and says to me, I’m really sorry but, my supervisor said Merry Christmas Rochelle,” Thompson recalled.
She was handed a scholarship to continue her education.
“They did everything they could to help,” Thompson said.
Her mother, Brenda Thompson, was there along with Thompson’s 4- and 2-year-old boys, to watch as she walked across the stage Thursday night.
The mother and daughter shared a long, tearful embrace after the ceremony.
“Tonight just proves kids can do what they want as long as they’ve got the support that they need,” Brenda Thompson said.
But Thompson’s journey isn’t over yet. She plans to go back to school for more classes to further her education, which she said will give her the opportunity to open her own business.