In advance of the fourth annual STEM Lab Day at Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana Sept. 20, Air Force Thunderbird pilots and their crews visited two Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) that morning to meet with students.
Air Force Maj. Will Graeff, who flies the No. 2 jet for the demonstration squadron, talked to an assembly at Bayside High School about why he was a pilot. “It’s a lot of fun,” he admitted. “Especially going upside down.”
But he confessed to not really knowing exactly what he wanted to do for a career, until he started going to Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) meetings. “I stumbled on it,” he recalled. “But I quickly realized (the military) was my passion. It was something that I was born to do. And it wasn’t the flying. It was the people. The trust, the friendships that you make.” He told the group not to be discouraged if they weren’t quite sure about their post-graduation plans yet.
“Never give up on your passions,” he said. “Never give up on searching for what your passion is. Whatever inspires you to do great things in life. Go out and do the best you can at it. Great things happen when you find something you love.”
A few miles away, Capt. Michael Brewer, who flies the No. 3 jet for the Thunderbirds, was offering similar advice to students at Tallwood High School. “Never chase the money. Find the career that is the best fit for a positive lifestyle. Seek someone in a career you find interesting and ask questions.”
“The VBCPS Office of Student Support Services partners with our local Navy school liaison officers to bring either the U.S. Navy Blue Angels or U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds to our high schools, where they can relay the importance of teamwork, cooperation, communication and overcoming obstacles that make these elite flying units a success,” explained Amanda Yoder, M.S. Ed., military-connected school counselor. “This opportunity allows our students to learn about STEM, expand their knowledge of various careers and to be inspired to persevere when faced with challenges.”
Both pilots joined their colleagues that afternoon at NAS Oceana and put on a special flight demonstration for more than 5,400 VBCPS staff and fifth graders as the culminating event for STEM Lab Day.