Being a Southwest Airlines Pilot carries with it tremendous responsibilities and privileges, but being an Adopt-a-Pilot carriers its own responsibilities and honors. This year marked my eighth year volunteering as an Adopt-A-Pilot, and going into the classroom and teaching young minds about aviation and the keys to success never gets old! The students’ shining (yet unsure) faces quickly become familiar; their personalities, mannerisms, and enthusiasm are as comfortable as a favorite pair of blue jeans. As soon as the initial ice is broken, and their sincere desire to learn takes over, a bond is formed—I am “their” Pilot, and this is “my” AAP class.
On Friday, May 9, my students at Oak Hill Elementary graduated from the Adopt-A-Pilot Program. We ended the year with a party, complete with cake, punch, and a very special guest—Gary Kelly, Southwest Airlines CEO! “Mr. Kelly” tested what the students learned this year, plus gave them the unique perspective as “the boss.” The students’ faces beamed with pride as Gary spoke with them. It’s been several years since he’s had little ones like these students, but he hasn’t lost a step in teaching values—it was amazing to watch and participate in!
The Adopt-A-Pilot Program reaches more than 42,000 students nationwide, with lessons on careers, life values, and the importance of staying in school—all with an aviation twist. My greatest hope for these kids is that they not only learn the curriculum, but also gain valuable life skills. I strive to form a special trust with each kid; I want them to know they have an adult who cares about them and their personal success.
If you’re a Pilot, and you’ve been wondering if the AAP Program is really for you, I encourage you to jump right in! You will never be the same again, and neither will your students. I am already beginning to gear up for next year. I cannot over-emphasize the blessings I receive from being invited into the hearts and minds of these students, and the sincere gratitude I have toward Southwest Airlines for their willingness to invest in such a critical venture like the Adopt-a-Pilot Program—no monetary return, but something infinitely more valuable—the satisfaction of investing in the future of America. I am a better man and a better Southwest Pilot because of this program and our Company’s commitment to give from the heart to our communities.