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AOPA celebrates the aviation class of 2020AOPA celebrates the aviation class of 2020

Parents, flight instructors, and students share aviation milestones and future plansParents, flight instructors, and students share aviation milestones and future plans

Scores of proud parents, flight instructors, and students themselves shared their favorite aviation-themed photos of graduating flight students during a coast-to-coast class of 2020 celebration. They honored the next generation of aviators by sharing details about the magic of first flights, the preparation for solos, the satisfaction of conquering checkride jitters, and aspirations to shape the future of aviation.

AOPA honors the class of 2020 with a photo gallery of images, words, and wisdom celebrating aviation accomplishments contributed by parents, flight instructors, and students. Photo illustration by Chris Rose.
Carl Jenkins, a pilot, helped his son Keegan, a graduating senior at Warrior Run High School in Pennsylvania, honor his fellow seniors by skywriting a special message with the family’s Piper Cherokee. Photo courtesy of Carl Jenkins.

One shining example is Alexa Dunn. The dual-enrollment honor student is graduating from both Rainier High School in Rainier, Washington, and nearby South Puget Sound Community College with an associate degree. She earned her helicopter pilot certificate at age 17 and is currently working on her commercial pilot certificate and her instrument rating. Dunn will be attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona, pursuing a degree in aeronautics. “Alexa started selling eggs from our family farm at age 12 to help pay for her lessons,” wrote her mom, Amy. “She also works as a writing tutor and has applied for scholarships to continue flying. She is a highly motivated and determined young woman who will go far in life!” 

Warrior Run High School senior Keegan Jenkins, from Turbotville, Pennsylvania, took the plight of fellow 2020 graduates to heart and turned to his father, Carl, who is a pilot, for help. Carl took his son up in the family’s Piper Cherokee for a skywriting mission to give encouragement to the high school seniors. The software-driven message was traced out in advance using ForeFlight. It spelled out the year 2020 and included a heart inside of a graduation cap and tassel to honor the class of 2020 seniors who are missing traditional commencement ceremonies due to the coronavirus pandemic. The tip of the heart falls directly over Jenkins’ high school.

“Here is one more effort to help the seniors at Warrior Run know that they are loved and honored for their time learning together,” Carl posted to social media. “It is our hope that when our seniors look back in 5, 10, 25, and 50 years they will remember how they were shown love by this community.”

We salute you all and wish you much aviation success in the years to come.

AOPA Senior Manager of Media Relations and Public Affairs Jennifer Non contributed to this article.
Alexa Dunn is a dual-enrollment honor student who will graduate from both Rainier High School in Rainier, Washington, and South Puget Sound Community College with her associate's degree. She earned her helicopter private pilot certificate in January at age 17 and is currently working on her instrument rating and commercial pilot certificate. She will be attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to pursue an aeronautics degree. Photo by Cheryl Robinson.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Amy Whelan is a senior at Rocklin High School, in Rocklin, California. She is completing training for her private pilot certificate and is a member of AOPA and the Experimental Aircraft Association. Whelan is a Ray Aviation Scholar, and the scholarship funds are covering her flight training expenses. She plans to attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University with a goal to become a commercial pilot. Photo courtesy of Scott Whelan. Andrew Patterson, 17, a senior at Eaton High School in Texas, exits a Cessna 172 after his first flight was documented by family and friends. Photo courtesy of Heather Patterson via Brandon Thetford. Chantel Chenard is graduating from Timber Creek High School in Orlando, Florida. She was in the U.S. Air Force JROTC program and the Civil Air Patrol where she completed her high school senior year as a Lt. Col. Vice Wing Commander, wrote her mom, Diana. Future plans include studying business at the University of Central Florida and attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Photo courtesy of Diana Chenard. Clayton Janes earned his pilot certificate in the spring of 2019 and is a 2020 graduate of Adair County High School in Columbia, Kentucky. He plans to attend Somerset Community College to pursue a degree in aviation maintenance technology. Photo courtesy of Matthew Willis via Andrea Waggener. Cole Cross will graduate from Carlmont High School in Belmont, California. Parent Terry Cross wrote, “He soloed on his 16th birthday and obtained his private pilot certificate in October 2019. Cole will study aerospace engineering at the University of Colorado-Boulder, and looks forward to pursuing his passion for the outdoors and aviation. He's a great guy, and we are so proud of him.” Photo courtesy of Terry Cross. Colin Eberl, 18, is a soloed student pilot who is graduating from Iowa City West High School in Iowa City, Iowa. He plans to pursue a bachelor of science degree in nutrition and exercise science at the University of Iowa and plans to continue pursuing aviation as a hobby. His dad, Daniel Eberl, said the photo was taken in front of the family airplane, a 1978 Cessna Cardinal co-owned by Minnetta Gardinier, a frequent participant in the all-female Air Race Classic (hence the race number). Photo by Emily Jia Photography.            Dale Swenson is graduating from Riverside High School in Tennessee and plans to attend Middle Tennessee State University in pursuit of an aviation career, wrote flight instructor Carl Blevins. “He earned his glider certificate when he turned 16 and his powered aircraft certificate at age 17. He also has tailwheel and high-performance endorsements. Dale flew over his senior parade instead of driving in it, and has been an AOPA member for years.” Photo courtesy of Carl Blevins. Daniel Kuhar is a Part 107 UAV pilot from Blacksburg High School in Montgomery County, Virginia. The school added drone pilot courses in 2019 and students participating in the classes may earn up to three college credits, according to the school. Photo courtesy of Veronica Spradlin. Coral Shores High School graduate Dominic Austin, of Florida, will attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He is majoring in aviation maintenance science with an area of concentration in flight. “Right now I’m about 7 hours in on my student private license flying off a scholarship from the EAA Marathon chapter 1241 and should be soloing at around 10 hours,” he wrote. Photo courtesy of Dominic Austin. Drew Emberland, a senior at United Christian Academy in Bloomington, Minnesota, soloed on January 6 and anticipates earning his private pilot certificate soon. He will attend Minnesota State University in Mankato to pursue a commercial pilot career. Photo courtesy of Gene Poole, United Christian Academy math and aviation teacher.      Dylan Kotara, a senior graduating from Karnes City High School in Texas, has completed a full simulator course and is beginning his private pilot lessons. Kotara has completed three aviation classes offered by Karnes City High School. Photo courtesy of David Purser. Emily Prechtl, a class of 2020 graduate from Wellesley College in Massachusetts, enjoys flying with her dad, Russ, whenever she can. Photo courtesy of Russ Prechtl. Eric Hix, a student pilot and graduating senior at Yorkville High School in Illinois, is pursuing an aviation career at Lewis University. Photo courtesy of Brian Duy. Ford Yates has completed his first glider solo and his first powered airplane solo. West Michigan Aviation Academy photo courtesy of the Yates family. Gabriel Isaac Green, of Commerce, Texas, walks the ramp near a Civil Air Patrol Cessna. Photo courtesy of CharlieAnn Green. George Chladek is graduating from Sisters High School in Oregon and will be attending Central Oregon Community College to pursue an aviation program. Photo courtesy of the Chladek family and SSD6 Flight Science/AVID/Health Teacher Sheryl Yeager. Ian Gildenmeister, of Sandusky, Ohio, is a Sandusky High School graduate and plans to continue his flight training and enroll in the NASCAR Technician Training Program at the NASCAR Technical Institute. Photo courtesy of Sandusky High School Aviation Technologies Instructor and Civil Air Patrol Cadet Squadron 801 Commander Brad Agee. Isaias Toledo is graduating from Air Force Academy High School in Chicago. In the fall of 2020 he will be attending Southern Illinois University to study aviation. Photo courtesy of Kristen Arambula. Jackson Bellard completed his checkride on May 1 and is graduating from Galena High School in Reno, Nevada. He plans to attend the University of Texas at Austin, to major in Aerospace Engineering. Photo courtesy of Michelle Bellard via Paige Shaw. Jacob Reger is a 2020 graduate in the NISD Aviation and Aeronautics Academy at V.R. Eaton High School in Fort Worth, Texas. He is taking dual credit courses for high school and college and is in the professional pilot program at Tarrant County College. “Jacob earned his private pilot certificate and will continue his flight training with US Aviation Academy as he pursues a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of North Texas. His goal is to become a professional pilot with American Airlines,” wrote his mom, Angie. “We are very proud of this ambitious young man and his drive toward success.” Photo courtesy of Ken and Angie Reger. Jacob “Jake” Arredondo is a 2020 graduate of The University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma, with an Aviation Management degree. He earned his private pilot certificate through Peak Aviation at the City of Colorado Springs Municipal Airport before graduating from high school. Arredondo is currently a flight instructor for the University of Oklahoma School of Aviation. The family thanks flight instructor Allen Mathews for introducing Arredondo to flying. Photo courtesy of Megan Dierks. “My son Jared Grabowski has 59.7 flight hours and is ready for his private pilot certificate checkride at First Landings Aviation in Apopka, Florida,” wrote his mom, Deena Grabowski. “Jared has participated in the Air Force JROTC all four years of high school at Timber Creek in Orlando and will join the AFROTC Detachment 145 at Florida State University in the fall as he begins working towards his goal of becoming a pilot for the U.S. Air Force. We are so proud of our son for all of his amazing achievements at such a young age. We know he will be a great leader someday in the not so distant future. We are so grateful to his high school instructor, Col. David Cohen, US Air Force, for encouraging Jared’s passion for flight which began before he could even talk.”
Photo courtesy of Deena Grabowski. Graduating Colorado high school senior and pilot Jason Walter plans to study aviation and aerospace science at Metropolitan State University Denver. Photo by Liz Danekind, ELD Photography. Joaquin "Dominik" Delgado is a high school senior enrolled at Community College of Denver. He plans to pursue a degree in aviation at Metropolitan State University Denver next year. He is pictured next to a Cessna 150 after he earned his private pilot certificate, and he has an instrument checkride scheduled soon. Photo courtesy of Jay Delgado. John Luke Hicks is graduating from Marion Senior High School in Marion, Virginia, and plans to attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. “He has been flying with his dad his whole life, and has attended many different air shows including Sun ’n Fun, and Oshkosh. He has been to two different summer academies at Embry-Riddle (ages 13 and 15), so he is ready for the next aviation adventure,” wrote his father, Cecil. Photo courtesy of Cecil Hicks.
Jordan Grover is a senior at United Christian Academy in Bloomington, Minnesota, who soloed on May 16, 2019, and earned her private pilot certificate on October 14. She hopes to attend a college where she can minor in aviation. Photo courtesy of Gene Poole, United Christian Academy math and aviation teacher. Graduating high school senior Justin Chirco, 18, “completed his first solo flight March 18 a few days before our city shut down for COVID-19 restrictions,” wrote Marlene Chirco. “As of last week the flight school has reopened and he is back in the air with just a few short hours of obtaining his private pilots certificate. He is scheduled for his solo cross-country flight May 23 then has to take his checkride. In the fall he will be attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to continue his studies to become a commercial airline pilot.” Photo courtesy of Marlene Chirco. Katherine Grasley holds an FAA student pilot certificate and hopes to become part of an air crew with the U.S. Coast Guard. Photo courtesy of Linda Grasley. Kryan Erwin of Coos Bay, Oregon, is graduating from Marshfield High School and will be attending Southern Utah State. “He has already been accepted and enrolled in their aviation program, and he wants to become a professional pilot,” wrote flight instructor Kevin Kruse. “I know Kyran is working as much as possible this summer at a pizza parlor to save for college In the fall. I had the privilege of soloing him, I know he is very determined and highly ambitious.” Photo courtesy of Kevin Kruse. Kyler Van Genderen, left, with instructor Braden Garmin, graduated from Timber Creek High school in Orlando, where was in the Air Force JROTC and the Honors Ground School program through Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He is pursuing mechanical engineering at the University of Central Florida, with dreams of becoming a U.S. Air Force pilot, wrote his mom, Rhonda. Kyler has 40 flight-hours with First Landings Aviation in Apopka. Photo courtesy of Rhonda Van Genderen. Landen Bowling is a 2020 graduate of Mason County High School in Maysville, Kentucky, and he is nearing the checkride portion of his private pilot certificate. Landen is pursing a career in commercial aviation and will attend the University of Cincinnati. Photo courtesy of Mason County High School aviation teacher Josh Underwood. Lillian Lysiuk is a Top Ten 2020 graduate from RHAM High School in Hebron, Connecticut. Photo courtesy of Lance Lysiuk. Graduating Colorado high school senior and instrument-rated pilot Nathan Dankers plans to pursue outreach programs with Mission Aviation Fellowship. Photo by Liz Danekind, ELD Photography. Nathan Esarey completed the AOPA high school curriculum in the Bullitt County, Kentucky, aviation program and passed the private pilot written exam. He is preparing to solo. Photo courtesy of Robert Dickson. Nathaniel Stevens, 18, from St. Francis DeSales High School in Westerville Ohio, plans to pursue a professional pilot career track at Kent State University. Photo courtesy of Mark Stevens. Olivia Thornton is a student pilot and a senior at Depew High School in New York. She plans to attend Bowling Green State University and major in flight studies with a specialization in flight technology and operations. Photo courtesy of Olivia Thornton. Peter Carter is a member of the Purdue University School of Aviation and Transportation Technology’s Professional Flight program class of 2020. Photo courtesy of Stephen Carter Raegan Buzzard is a graduating senior at Damascus High School in Montgomery County, Maryland, and is training at Frederick Municipal Airport. Buzzard is also a Civil Air Patrol Cadet Captain in the Mt. Airy Composite Squadron; Cadet Executive Officer at the cross-enrolled Seneca Valley High School, NJROTC; a member of EAA Chapter 524 and a 2019 Ray Aviation Scholarship recipient. Buzzard will be pursuing an aerospace engineering degree at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Photo courtesy of Mary Ann Alvarado. Regen Langholz is graduating from Kentwood High School in Covington, Washington, and is completing her private pilot certificate. She plans to attend the University of Alaska Fairbanks to pursue mechanical engineering and aerospace while also continuing her flight training. She was a Western Aerospace Scholar for the state of Washington. This photo was taken right after Langholz completed her solo long cross-country flight. Photo courtesy of Denise Langholz. Rostin Morris is a Part 107 UAV pilot from Blacksburg High School in Montgomery County, Virginia. The school added drone pilot courses in 2019 and students participating in the classes may earn up to three college credits, according to the school. Photo courtesy of Veronica Spradlin. Ryan Malcomb of Circle Christian School in Winter Park, Florida, soloed when he turned 16 and is an instrument-rated private pilot as of January 2020. He is currently working on his commercial single and multiengine certificates, wrote his brother Matt. “He is one of seven pilots in the family. Ryan participated in Eagle’s Nest Projects (that is the plane in the pic), a high school program where students build the two-seat Van’s Aircraft RV-12 within a school year.” Photo courtesy of Matt Malcolmb. Chloe Sahara Billman, 17, is almost finished with her private pilot instruction with the help of an AOPA scholarship and Tango Thirty One Aero Clube, a nonprofit organization created to help teens explore opportunities in the aviation industry, wrote her mother Bahama Schroeder. “She completed high school in three years and will graduate from McKinney Boyd High School in Texas with 21 college credits. Billman plans to attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and will pursue an aeronautical science degree. Her goal is to become a commercial pilot like her late grandfather, Capt. Paul Falcon Dixon.” Photo courtesy of Bahama Schroeder.     Scott Little “wanted to be a pilot since he was in elementary school. He never varied,” wrote his mother, Mary Little. “His grandfather was a pilot and Scott wanted to follow in his footsteps. He took the the time to learn everything he could about as many planes as he could. Scott had just competed his first solo flight right before the state locked down for the virus and his flights were suspended. They are supposed to start back up very soon. He cannot wait to get back up in the sky.” Photo courtesy of Katie Little. Soren Janson is graduating from Deer Park High School in Washington state and is on target to complete his private pilot certificate by the end of the summer. He is pursuing a bachelor of science degree at Central Washington University to become a professional pilot and hopes for a career in commercial, test flight, or cargo. Photo by Mojo Lab.        Stephen Claydon was awarded a scholarship through Timber Creek High School in Florida and plans on taking his checkride soon. He has been appointed to the U.S. Air Force Academy Prep School where he hopes to continue with his love of flight, and, ultimately his goal is to serve his country. Photo courtesy of Katrina Claydon. Tanner Adams of Lufkin High School in Lufkin, Texas, is a 
Ray Aviation Scholar who earned his private pilot certificate in September of 2019. He is attending LeTourneau University and will pursue aviation management with a professional flight concentration. Photo by Laurie Cordray Photography. Trevor Cox, an Eaton High senior, poses for a photo near a Beechcraft Twin Bonanza. Photo courtesy of the Cox family. Tyler Fearis is a 2020 graduate of Mason County High School in Maysville, Kentucky, and is nearing the checkride portion of his private pilot certificate. Fearis is pursing a career in naval aviation, starting at Jacksonville University. Photo courtesy of Josh Underwood, Mason County High School aviation teacher. Victoria Moore, 18, graduated from West Michigan Aviation Academy. Photo courtesy of Victoria Moore.                        Northwest Independent School District senior William Kinney completed his private and instrument training while in high school. Photo courtesy of Sean Kinney via Northwest Independent School District, Texas, Aviation and Aeronautics Academy Facilitator Donny Pharr. Zachary Samoro, of V.R. Eaton High School in the Northwest Independent School District, Fort Worth, Texas, has future plans to become a U.S. Air Force pilot. Photo courtesy of the Samoro family.
David Tulis

David Tulis

Associate Editor Web/ePilot
AOPA Associate Editor Web/ePilot David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a seaplane-rated private pilot who enjoys vintage aircraft, aerobatic flying, and photography.
Topics: Aviation Industry, Career, Student

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