By Kim West
Like many recent high school graduates, Ryan Graham used the summer before his first semester of college to log hours at a part-time job, spend time with friends and embark on a few adventures.
In Graham’s case, the Ardmore High School alum also took a few days to compete in his first SkillsUSA national competition in Kansas City, Mo., where he became the second straight student from the Limestone County Career Technical Center to win the silver medal in computer maintenance technology. Skyler Verworren placed second in the same category in 2012, and was among seven CTC students to finish in the top 20.
Three other CTC students also competed at nationals, including Athens Bible’s Douglas Fields in cabinetmaking, Tanner High School’s John McKinney in carpentry and Elkmont High School’s Morgan Garris in public speaking.
Graham, an unassuming and deliberate 18-year-old with an uncanny resemblance to Zac Efron, described himself as a computer nerd with varied interests — painting, playing guitar, weightlifting and Kentucky basketball — during a visit to the CTC campus last week.
“I was floored when they announced the national results because I didn’t think I did well in the competition. The competition was very difficult so I couldn’t believe I had placed in the top 20,” said Graham, who began attending the CTC as a sophomore and won a state silver medal as a junior.
He preferred to give credit for his national medal to his SkillsUSA chapter adviser, information technology instructor Ted James, his buddy Skyler and former CTC student Chris Kennedy.
“I can’t give much credit to myself because a large part goes to my teacher and a good bit goes to Skyler and other people for being a big help,” said Graham, who won a mini iPad for earning a gold medal in April at the SkillsUSA state contest. “Mr. James has a first-place winner from a few years back — Chris Kennedy — that puts on a very tough local competition. I saw a few of our problems in our local district competition at nationals.”
Graham, who built his desktop personal computer from scratch with his father and said the hardware of a computer is much less complicated than the software, said he eventually would like to upgrade to a Mac computer.
“The basics for buying a computer are that you want to make sure it has enough RAM (computer data storage) and to make sure it has a fairly powerful processor. And with a computer, everything works as a whole so if you don’t have good parts working together, you end up with a bottleneck (in terms of computer speed),” he said. “If you’re only using a computer for straight word processing, you can get away with a lower-end computer if you’re not trying to put a lot of stuff on it.
“I would recommend a MacBook because they work flawlessly and they’re just beautiful. I’ve never had any problems with those when I’ve used them, and I wish I had one.”
Graham grew up in a computer-centric family — his six-member household has five desktops, four tablets and two laptops, plus an assortment of computer parts. He said he is majoring in electrical engineering because he is ready to try something new after tinkering with computers for more than a dozen years.
“My major is a lot different from computers. Everyone wants me to go into computer engineering but computers have kind of lost their luster,” said Graham, who will be attending the University of Alabama-Huntsville this fall on a partial scholarship.
James, Graham’s instructor for three years, has advised eight national winners in his more than 27 years of teaching either electronics technology or computer maintenance. Six of his CTC students have placed in the top three nationally, including two gold medalists.
“The national SkillsUSA competition draws first-place winners from all over the U.S. in their respective vocations, and they’re essentially they’re the best of the best, with usually about 40 to 50 in each category,” James said. “We’ve been blessed. Ryan just did what was asked of him, and he worked hard to get ready for the competitions. He has a bright future if he takes advantage of his abilities.”