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Faculty of Computing, Health and Science and Faculty of Education and Arts - Student speaker

Sunday, 6 September 2009, 1.00pm

Miss Amber Grech

Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, Fellow Graduates; First and foremost, congratulations to the graduating class. We are here today to mark the completion of a chapter in our lives; to recognise our many achievements; to acknowledge the support of our teachers, family and friends; to remember and celebrate the journey we have taken to get here; and to express our dreams for the future. I am honoured to have the opportunity to share my experience with you and I hope that through my reflection, each of you can recognise that we all have many things to be proud of.

The most common question I am asked by those who are intrigued by my career as a pilot is what inspired me to learn to fly? I still to this day haven’t been able to come up with a logical answer. The one thing I am sure of is that I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.

I don’t come from an aviation background and unlike many of my aerosexual friends, I didn’t grow up building model aeroplanes or memorising scenes from Top Gun (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) I played with barbie dolls, learnt to dance and as far as my parents tell me, I didn’t bother with the ever changing announcement of what I wanted to be “when I grew up.” When it came to TEE subject selection in upper school I was initially daunted by the task as I had no idea in which direction I wanted to go. However for some unknown reason I was drawn to the suggestion “pilot” while browsing a career guidance booklet. I didn’t understand what had made it stand out to me but I knew it was what I wanted to pursue. I’d always had aspirations to go to university so once I discovered I could study aviation, my decision was made. I don’t actually recall considering anything other than this course, simply because I thought it would offer me a solid foundation for an interesting career. And I guess interesting is what the last seven years have been!

It is astonishing to remember back to my first day at uni in 2002. I was one of four girls in a group of about seventy guys, most of whom had varying levels of aviation experience. I felt I was the only student furiously noting the three fundamental aerodynamic control surfaces of an aircraft, because I had never flown before. After my first week at uni I finally had my first flying lesson, and luckily I absolutely loved it! The fact that I am here today, graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Aviation and a commercial pilot employed by a major Regional Airline is testament to this course.

I am confident I speak for my classmates when I say I have fond memories of my time studying at ECU. Having only three key teaching staff made the experience all the more personal as the lecturers always had time for each of us, even after we’d completed the course. Our classes became a tight knit group of friends who just happened to study together. Many of us still catch up socially on a regular basis, some of us work together and two of us ended up together! I was lucky enough to meet my partner, Michael while studying at ECU. We have experienced most of our aviation adventures together and I would like to thank him for keeping me motivated to finish what I’d started. I am pleased to say we are now enjoying the benefits of the last seven years of study working together as first officers on passenger aircraft out of Perth International Airport.

What many people don’t realise is that there is a huge commitment required aside from the university studies to become a successful aviator. Besides the practical flying syllabus, which leaves pilots very restricted financially, there are numerous theoretical exams imposed by the aviation regulatory body CASA for the issue of Flight Crew licences such as the Commercial and Air Transport Pilot Licences. These tests and exams continue throughout your career.  I do feel my studies at ECU prepared me for the numerous challenges I have faced along the way and those which I am yet to encounter.

Just this year I was awarded the CASA sponsored Sir Donald Anderson Trophy for my Air Transport Pilot License exam results which was a welcome reward. I must admit I did receive some assistance as I completed a six week course in Maroochydore, QLD where I sat four of the seven ATPL exams. This course helped to refresh my memory as I found my theory was a little rusty because it has been three years since completing my university studies. However, I have no doubt that the fact I had studied the material before, certainly made the experience a little less of a challenge.

Recently I joined the Australian Women Pilots Association and was invited to attend their annual conference in Port Lincoln, SA to accept the CASA award. I am a little embarrassed to say that it is only now I have realised what a fantastic cause the AWPA supports. They are a solely voluntary association who unite and promote women in aviation and it is the work of these women that has allowed me to achieve success in this industry with no disadvantage because of my sex.

Looking back I have to say I really had no idea what I was getting myself into but I certainly have no regrets.  I managed to navigate my way by confronting each challenge when it approached and made the most of each opportunity that presented itself. I guess you could say I did “wing it” but I’m satisfied it has worked out thus far and I’m happy to see where else this path will take me in the future.

As we march towards tomorrow in various directions, I urge you all to do so in the manner which we have been guided during our studies. Keep your head held high and act with integrity; the sacrifices we make today will be of benefit tomorrow. Respect those around you; as it is our differences that make us special. Be inquisitive but rational; no one will question valid reasoning. And always strive for excellence, to realise your potential and that of others as well. These values not only form the basis of our education, but can be applied to any aspect of life and with these points in mind, there’s not too much we can do wrong.

Find yourself a place in the community, either within the industry you build a career or a passion you have outside the workplace. Each of us has something to give and no doubt the majority has received some form of good will from an organisation, club or charity which can be repaid with support. Alternatively, have the drive to make change where you see it is needed. If we impart our knowledge to others and share our experience, lessons can be learnt from our mistakes and triumphs.

Most importantly, take the time to thank those who have provided support and helped along the way. To parents who put off “emptying the nest” to keep a room for their adult children, or the room-mates who helped with our share of the rent and kept the music down so we could study. To the friends who stuck by us when we didn’t have the money or the time to catch up or the one person who stood with a torch and waited patiently for us to reach the light at the end of the tunnel. To the lecturers, mentors and staff of our educational institution, who provided a learning environment in which we could grow as individuals. On behalf of all graduates, I sincerely thank all these people. It is your support that has allowed us to succeed in our endeavours.

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