A round of cheers from more than 400 parents and well-wishers welcomed members of California Aeronautical University’s inaugural graduating class, who walked a red carpet to receive their diplomas.
California Aeronautical University President Matthew Johnston presided over the ceremony that he said was “a very special day on so many levels.”
U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt delivered the commencement address and issued the pioneering students a challenge: “Find a passion and work hard to exceed your dreams.” Leavitt, recognized as the military branch’s first female fighter pilot, said, “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that your dreams are too big.”
Raschel Grant, the college’s director of graduate services, said, “She went after her dreams and that was her message to our graduating students and our current students alike,” adding that “it was inspiring, especially for female aviators.”
A Cessna 172 chocked inside the maintenance hangar provided the backdrop, local Civil Air Patrol cadets posted the colors, and classically trained singer Tamu Smith-Kohls, the school’s chief recruitment officer, sang the National Anthem.
AOPA media representative Tom Linton addressed the graduating class, and complimented the university’s teachers, staff, students, and parents for a “very appreciative and welcoming” attitude among the fast-growing program.
A large screen highlighted a photo slideshow of the graduates during their classes, flights at Meadows Field Airport, and social activities in and around the 22-acre campus. Grant said the standing-room-only crowd gave the students a fitting send-off before the graduates surrounded another of the school's Cessna 172s and posed for photos in their caps and gowns.
The school has five start dates per year, and the program is designed to be completed in 36 months. Some students may finish early if they acquire all of their flight time, ratings, and certifications ahead of schedule, Grant noted. “When they graduate, they are CFIIs, and they have the opportunity to interview at the school” for flight instructor positions, she added.
Smith-Kohls pointed out that the incoming class of 2019 will increase to 70 students as the young program continues to build momentum. “All of our students get their multiengine rating, and a few get their multiengine instructor rating so they can then teach other students. The opportunity for advancement is really unlimited.”
Fifteen students earned a Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautics, two earned an Associate of Science degree in aviation, and one earned a Master of Business Administration.