BRADENTON -- Many came to Manatee Technical College to learn a new trade, some with the desire to switch careers.
On Friday evening, 85 students graduated from the school in an intimate ceremony held at the main campus.
"Tonight's graduation is a tribute to our students, and all of them who have graduated before in our 52-year history here in Manatee County," said MTC Director Doug Wagner. "Our mission is to produce highly skilled individuals and resourceful leaders through collaborative education to meet the ever-changing needs of our communities and the workforce."
The graduates dressed in blue robes looked on at Wagner from their rows of seats in Cantrell Hall.
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"We've met our mission," Wagner added. "Our students are highly skilled and they are resourceful leaders. They're ready for their great careers."
One by one, MTC instructors spoke about how each student fared in their respective courses. Many graduates stood beaming beside their instructors.
Medical administrative specialist graduate Lillie
Mae Johnson, who delivered the invocation, had encouraging words for fellow graduates.
"There is no other group of people I would have preferred to go through my journey with than my fellow classmates," she said during her speech. "We have learned the value of integrity, teamwork, and reliability, and I truly believe that I gained something from each of you and for that I am grateful."
After the ceremony, 25-year-old Johnson said she felt happy and relieved.
"It was really rewarding," the Bradenton mother of three boys said. "It was a bit of a struggle in the beginning, getting it together."
In the graduate's left hand were two bouquets and a large balloon. Johnson's family stood by proudly, including her eldest son, 9-year-old Lashaurd Gilchrist.
"Happy!" Lashaurd said when asked how he felt about his mother graduating. "Because she's getting older."
Johnson looked down at her son with amused eyes.
"I'm not calling you old!" he said with a toothy grin. "I mean smarter."
Robert Buelow, who graduated from the automotive service technology program, said he felt great about graduating.
"I finally finished my lifetime achievement," the 36-year-old said. "I like working hands-on on vehicles. It gives me a lot of challenges, but it's a good learning experience and the money in it is very good as well."
Nearby, nails graduate Milena Coromoto Cervantes stood with her husband, Luis Valera, and their family. Cervantes, who moved to the United States from Venezuela two years ago, spoke during the ceremony through an interpreter. The 36-year-old Bradenton resident said her program was difficult because of the language barrier.
"But when you want something," she pointed out, "you can accomplish anything."
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.