"Every once in a while we have one fail, but they pass the second time around," Butts said Thursday.
Butts, a registered nurse with a master's degree in education, was honored Thursday by the Franklin County Board of Commissioners in a surprise ceremony attended by colleagues. The ceremony and tonight's graduation were two events Butts almost didn't live to see.
On June 18, Butts was returning from a meeting in Harrisburg, Pa., when her car was struck from behind by a tractor-trailer. Her car spun around and was hit again by the truck, forcing it across the median into the northbound lanes, where it was hit by another tractor-trailer.
Butts, 64, of 1010 E. Brandon Drive, was seriously injured but has returned part time to work. She had planned to retire before the accident and is being succeeded by Kathi Hoos, who previously headed the Quincy United Methodist Home.
Summit Health Chief Executive Officer Norm Epstein praised her "persistence in moving the profession as far as it has gone."
"There are an awful lot of people out there who learned under you," he told Butts during the ceremony.
Summit Health includes Chambersburg Hospital, where many students receive clinical experience and are later hired.
"Our students don't go out just for observation. We wouldn't let them out of our program without clinical experience," Butts said.
More than half of the year-long course involves clinical training, "and that's what makes our program outstanding," she said.
The Falling Spring Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Chambersburg is another facility where students gain clinical experience. Nancy Harr, the assistant director of nursing at the center, said Butts' students are "very well prepared" not only in patient care, but in medical administration.
Eva Scott, a clinical case manager at the nursing home, said she graduated from the program "many years back." She recalled her first day in class when Butts peppered students with medical terminology they had never before heard.
"I learned very quickly you have to pay attention," Scott said. "The very first night I went home and studied very, very hard."
When she trained to become a registered nurse, she found her previous training gave her a leg up on other students. "At that point I realized I had learned so much in that one year," Scott said.
"Mary knows nursing from A through Z," said Career and Technology Center Director Dalton Paul. He said the program is one of few in Pennsylvania that is nationally accredited.
"You have touched the lives of thousands of people in the health care industry," Paul told Butts.