Hope Peterson wants you to know that the modern-day auto technician bears little resemblance to the comedic portrayals of yesteryear.
They're not Gomer and Goober.
"I think parents have this idea in their head that being an auto mechanic is like being a grease monkey, and that's not true," Peterson said. "It's about computer-controlled systems and knowing the correct procedures to accurately diagnose and repair cars."
Peterson, owner of New Hope Auto & Truck Services in Clearwater and a graduate of Pinellas Technical Education Center, implored people to see career and technical education in a new light.
Speaking at a Pinellas Education Foundation fundraiser Wednesday, Peterson argued the pursuit of a trade can be just as fulfilling as the pursuit of a college degree.
That she has to make the argument says a lot about our society. As a college graduate and as the son of college professors, I've made attending a four-year institution an expectation for my children.
In my mind, pursuing a vocation would be a fallback if they didn't have the acumen to get into a university.
That line of thinking only can be characterized as misguided. The choice between a college like South Florida and a career education institution like PTEC are equal opportunities for success.
Like me, PTEC chief operating officer Dennis Jauch said he held the same expectations for his two children from "the day they were born." Now, his daughter works for a company in Pinellas after earning a four-year degree while his son works as a firefighter/emergency medical technician in Pasco.
"They're both happy and they both make about the same amount of money," Jauch said. "My son is a career technical person. He's doing what he should be doing."
Since taking over at PTEC three years ago, he has worked internally to raise standards while enhancing its brand.
The school serves more than 9,000 students, including young teens who didn't find their way at conventional high schools and career professionals who return to get more training.
Peterson, who serves on advisory boards, lauded Jauch's vision and saluted him for making PTEC a "cutting-edge destination."
Yet some still believe college should be the goal of every high school student.
If that sounds right to you, consider: In Florida, only 32 of every 100 ninth-grade students enter college, and only 14 of those students graduate with an associate's degree within three years or a bachelor's degree within six years.
Look, I'm not suggesting we don't challenge students to aim high, but how do we define high?
"We need to break the idea that out of high school your choice is go to college or (pursue) a trade," Jauch said.
"I really think it's which one do you do first, technical education or academic education, and then how do you go back and forth between the two during your career."
Plumbers, auto mechanics, construction workers, air-conditioning repairmen and other vocational careers deserve admiration.
There was a time when you didn't have to put that statement in a column because everyone knew.
I'm not sure why it changed.
I just know it's time for another cultural shift.
That's all I'm saying.