On Friday morning, November 8, 2019, Lancer student Gracie Still ’20 confidently walked on stage to address a room full of supporters at The Museum of Flight’s annual AM Flight Breakfast. Gracie was selected as the student speaker to talk about her experience with the Boeing Academy for STEM Learning’s Aeronautical science pathway. She was greeted with an enthusiastic reception. We were so inspired by her speech, we wanted to share parts of it with our community.

Walking out to the flight line early on a Saturday morning, I look around, noticing the stillness of the airport. The air is cool and calm, not yet heated by afternoon thermals. It remains quiet as I finish my preflight and tow the Cessna to the start line, my excitement growing while I start the engine and taxi towards the runway. With checklists completed and clearance from Tower, I take the runway and go full throttle. As my heels slide down to the rudder pedals, I feel the wheels leaving the ground and the grin on my face widens. I relish these moments of soaring above the Earth’s surface.

Oftentimes, as I take in the world from above, I can’t help but reflect on what drew me into aviation. On the surface, it appears entirely random. Neither of my parents work in the industry or have any particular interest in the field, nor does anyone else in my family. I have come to realize; aviation has deeply ingrained itself in my life in countless other ways. With a constant hum of airplanes overhead, and class field trips to Boeing Field, growing up surrounded by the rich aviation history of the Pacific Northwest has motivated me to pursue it further.

As I turn downwind in the pattern, my thoughts turn to The Museum of Flight and the tremendous impact it has made in my life. Building off the strong foundation my family has given me, the Museum allowed me to unite two guiding principles in my life: the importance of education and serving others. It provided a place where I can embrace my love of learning and collaborate with students who have similar interests. This has benefited me immensely as I train for my private pilot’s license and discover all that aviation and aerospace offers.

Just last month, I made my first solo flight, and took part in the student pilot tradition of cutting the back of my shirt.

At the Museum, I have also developed as a professional, and recognized how I can use my passion to help others. The pilots, engineers, and astronauts I have met exemplify the caliber of people who succeed in these industries, and the generosity they show truly inspires me every day. While I am in awe of those who have come before me, I want to build upon their legacy, and go further to address the lack of diversity in the aerospace industry.

After several touch and go’s, I come in for my final landing of the day. While I have yet to master the soft touchdown, I see each landing as an opportunity to perfect my skills. Whether I need to adjust my glide slope or airspeed, making small corrections of the throttle or pitch will allow for my safety and success. This lesson I have taken beyond the cockpit; I know I still have a long way to go, both as a student pilot and aspiring engineer, but by continually progressing forward and remaining focused, I will reach my goals and beyond.

With another flight in my logbook, I tie down the plane and take one last look at the now bustling airport. In seeing the wonderful community surrounding me, I am so grateful for the experiences I have had which have led me to this moment. As I look forward to the future, I am eager to give back. No matter where I end up career wise – a Boeing flight test engineer, propulsion engineer at Blue Origin, or even possibly an astronaut, I know I am adequately prepared to take on the challenge. After all, standing here on the ramp I can see for myself that the sky is not the limit. ◆

Gracie will be attending Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona in the fall.