Perseverance the key to Burnett's goal of becoming an auto mechanic like his father

Published on: April 19, 2022
Michael Burnett portrait
Perseverance has kept Michael Burnett focused on a longtime dream of becoming an auto technician.

In a year, Michael Burnett will be a certified automotive mechanic. With a Guilford Technical Community College associate degree in hand, he'll be headed toward a career as a mechanic with dreams of someday owning his own auto repair business.

Just a few years ago that all seemed so distant and unobtainable to the 25-year-old Burnett.

As a teenager he suffered from severe anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. He was in and out of hospitals during his teen years and wound up entering GTCC's adult education program when he was 19 because he hadn't been able to complete high school.

"I graduated from the GTCC adult high school program June 9, 2016, at 19. That taught me a lot," said Burnett, who is originally from Augusta, Ga., but moved to Greensboro when he was 15. "I had to overcome a lot of obstacles. I was going to graduate from high school at 16, but then developed mental health problems. My mom always said to trust in Jehovah God and that if I did, I would persevere. So, I never gave up."

His mom was spot on with that assessment. Burnett's struggles persisted after completing his High School education, but he kept charging forward.

"After I graduated, I was happy, but I had hardships. I'll never forget, I was in the hospital, taking English 111 and finished my paper in crayon," said Burnett, whose mother attended GTCC and was influenced by a visit President Barack Obama made to the college, encouraging non-traditional students to further their education. "I finished the course with an A. GTCC has helped me with my journey and my mother started her journey at Guilford Tech."

Perhaps the biggest help from GTCC came in the form of a $1,000 scholarship from the GTCC Foundation to help begin his quest toward an associate degree in Automotive Systems Technology.

"That's when things really began to blow up for me," Burnett said.

And did they ever blow up. He's a year away from receiving his degree and certification as an automotive mechanic, he is an apprentice at Capital Automotive in Greensboro, and he feels good about himself and his future.

"The first career I wanted to get into was physical therapy. I had read up on it and helped my grandmother and all that resonated with me for a while," Burnett said. "As I got older, it all shifted for me, I thought about nursing then I said, 'you know what, I like all of that, but what do I really, really love to do? What is my ultimate passion?' I'm a hands-on guy. That's the way my brain works.

"I thought working on vehicles could be good for me. When I see that I fixed the car, there's a sense of gratification. It's just a good feeling."

The desire to work on cars may have been passed down to Burnett. His father, who passed away when Burnett was 10, was a master technician L1 who taught advanced engine performance. Burnett remembers, as a very young boy, watching his father work in his shop.

"He had a 1992 Chevy Silverado step side truck. He wanted me to have it and my mom gave it to me when he passed," Burnett said. "I did basic repairs on it. I loved that truck. That's when it came more personal to me. It's something I came to love. I love how they are made, what makes them go. When my dad passed, my uncle worked with me on the truck."

Once he got his driver's license, Burnett drove his dad's Chevy for several years before it was wrecked in an accident that was not his fault. He sold the damaged vehicle and bought another, but one day would like to find the truck and repair it in honor of his father. "I always think about finding it," he said of the Silverado.

These days Burnett splits his time between GTCC classes and his apprenticeship at Capital Automotive.

"I'm just beginning my journey," Burnett said. "When I finish, I will be a fully certified auto technician. I'm going to absolutely be prepared. My instructors make sure I know everything I need to know when I walk in the shop for work."

He also said the staff at Capital Automotive work diligently to make sure he learns as much as possible every day he's on the job. "My manager Lamar works with me really hard," he said.

Burnett plans to continue work at Capital Automotive once he graduates and receives all the necessary certifications, but one day plans to open his own shop. None of it, though, would have been possible without his perseverance and a lot of teamwork.

"As a student going through the things I went through, I had my family there and my instructors were there. They knew about what I was going through," Burnett said. "I was very concerned, very frustrated, but I always remembered, it's not what is happening now, it's about the end result. Keep working at it … there is no time limit, work at your own pace. I knew as long as I kept the desire, I'd be OK."

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