Young pilot gets a lift from breaking down barriers

 

In May, Moriah Graham made history by becoming the first African American from Delaware to earn a private pilot license while still a student in high school. (Submitted photo)

In May, Moriah Graham made history by becoming the first African American from Delaware to earn a private pilot license while still a student in high school. (Submitted photo)

WOODSIDE — For Moriah Graham, flying a plane is much easier than driving a car.

“I fly a lot better than I drive because I’ve been doing it for so long,” she said last week.

“Flying is just second nature to me now.”

While most teens work on getting their driver’s license in high school, Ms. Graham was piloting a plane.

She made history in May when she became the first African American on record in the state to earn a private pilot’s license in high school, according to her instructor, retired Lt. Col. Raymond Ott.

Ms. Graham, who graduated from Polytech High School this month, said that although she’d wanted to pilot a plane for years, “I didn’t realize I would love it as much as I did.” For Moriah, soaring above the clouds is peaceful.

“You never realize how cluttered it is on the ground,” she said.

Earning a private pilot’s license is an option for students studying aerospace science at Polytech. This year, five students — a school record — received their license. Typically, Lt. Col. Ott said, only one or two students a year finish the requirements.

For ground school and flight training, Ms. Graham needed to commit to flying each week, give up evenings for meetings and maintain high grades.

From left, five Air Force JROTC cadets have earned their private pilot’s license this year. From left, are Colin Correia, Liz Judge, Jonathan Hesterman, Moriah Graham, James Maier, Steven Sanchez and Philip Moore. (Submitted photo)

From left, five Air Force JROTC cadets have earned their private pilot’s license this year. From left, are Colin Correia, Liz Judge, Jonathan Hesterman, Moriah Graham, James Maier, Steven Sanchez and Philip Moore. (Submitted photo)

It was tough at first to meet the deadlines and expectations, she said. Nobody else in her family was in aviation and she didn’t know what to expect. But as time went on, she got better and better at it.

“Not a lot of people believed in me, I’m not going to lie,” Ms. Graham said, “but it didn’t bother me because I always believed in myself.”

On the road of education, Lt. Col. Ott said, teachers spend a lot of time worrying about standards and how to meet them, “but I think where we fail in education is saying, ‘Look, here’s something you can do. It’s very difficult. But you can do it,’” he said.

“I think any time someone does something that people want to label or mark as not being what you should do in life that it shows grit, determination and focus,” Lt. Col. Ott said.

“It’s definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” Ms. Graham said.

“It took me a year and one month to get my license. I think the toughest part of it was sticking with it.”

Being on your own in a plane is terrifying at first.

“My first solo flight was in August. I think that’s the most scared I’ve ever been,” Ms. Graham said.

That first flight, she only flew about 800 feet and then came back down. Now, of course, she’s flown all around the East Coast.

When she was ready to earn her license, Ms. Graham needed to take an expensive, hours-long exam and head out on a checkride with her instructor. “It’s an all-day experience and it’s the most stressful day of my life,” she said.

When she was a little girl, Ms. Graham said that she was fascinated by space and she wanted to become an astronaut.

From the time she learned about Polytech’s Air Force JROTC program in seventh grade, she knew she wanted to go there.

Throughout the program, she was motivated knowing that she was breaking down barriers.

“I want to continue flying because there aren’t a lot of girls in the aviation world, specifically black girls,” she said.

“It feels great. It definitely motivated me throughout the program. It motivated me because it reminded me that what I was doing isn’t for me.”

“I’m doing this to not only give God all the glory but to show all the little girls that are like me that anything is possible if they try hard enough.”

Ms. Graham said that she plans to attend Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University in the fall.

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