SEATTLE, July 10, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- The voices of 605 students pledging to work hard, believe in themselves and graduate from high school filled Alaska Airlines' hangar today and briefly masked the sound of airplanes taking off outside at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The event, dubbed "Pledge It. Prove It. Take Flight.,"was co-hosted by Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and Alaska Airlines' Black Employee Resource Group (BERG).
The event attracted students from 21 high schools and educational programs from across Washington and was designed to encourage urban youths to finish school and accomplish their goals.
In his keynote speech, Wilson urged the students to excel in high school and pursue post-secondary education, promising them that hard work, focus and a commitment to graduating high school can lead to a bright future.
"You can do and be anything you want if you set a goal, map out a plan and commit to achieve it," Wilson said. "You just need to do the work."
Wilson's own academic career was an inspiration for the students, who were identified as urban, first-generation college-bound youths. After attending high school in Richmond, Va., Wilson graduated from North Carolina State University in 2010 after only three years with a bachelor's degree in communications. He went on to attend the University of Wisconsin from 2011 to 2012, where he led the university to the Rose Bowl in 2012. He later earned the position of starting quarterback for the Seahawks in his rookie season. There he led the team to the 2013 playoffs, where he ultimately tied the NFL record for touchdown passes by a rookie.
"Alaska Airlines has a strong commitment to supporting youths and education," Alaska Airlines President and CEO Brad Tilden said. "The opportunity to partner with Russell to share his inspiring story with youths in our community is a perfect way for us to further connect with young people in our hometown."
Tilden said he admires Russell for his determination and talent on the field, and for his humility and modesty off the field. "These are great values for any person or organization — he is an incredible role model for us all," Tilden said.
In addition to Wilson, five Alaska Airlines employees took to the stage to encourage students to pursue careers in aviation.
Dale Bartley started with Alaska Airlines in 1990 loading cargo and checking bags onto planes. He is now the airline's chief dispatcher, overseeing the team of people who generate flight plans and monitor weather across the carrier's network.
Joining Bartley were James Padilla, director of supply chain and a current and founding member of Alaska Airlines' Inclusion Advisory Council; Captain Debbie Waingrow, a 28-year Alaska Airlines pilot and the carrier's first female check airman; Yvonne Daverin, Horizon Air's vice president of maintenance and engineering; and Phil Bomar, a 26-year-old maintenance technician for Alaska Airlines.
"It was nice to hear from a lady in engineering because you don't see women in that field very often," said Sharon Washington, who will enter her junior year at Washington High School in Parkland, Wash. "I grew up taking things apart and building things. Engineering is something I'm interested in."
Students attending the event were selected by their high school or education program administrator, with some driving from as far away as Yakima to hear Wilson speak about his goals and dreams. The largest student group represented Making a Difference in Community (MDC), a Tacoma nonprofit that sponsors educational programs for youths throughout Pierce County. In all, more than 230 students participating in MDC's College Bound and Talent Search programs raised their hands and pledged to work hard and finish high school.
"Hearing Russell Wilson speak about accomplishing goals and achieving his dreams is tremendously significant for our students," said L. Denice Randle, MDC's director of education and employment programs. "Many young people hear similar messages from their parents and teachers, but having Russell advocate the message of possibility for our students will stay with them for the rest of their lives."
Among the other schools sending large numbers of students to the event were Bethel High School, Federal Way High School, Mount Tahoma High School and Spanaway Lake High School. Also in attendance were high school students from Yakima Valley Community College and South Seattle Community College who participate in the colleges' TRIO Talent Search and TRIO Upward Bound programs.
"I liked the motivational speech by Russell Wilson, especially hearing about the steps he takes daily to be successful," said Alfredo Gomez, a student from Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Wash. "I do some of those same things. [Wilson] gets up early every day. I get up at 3 a.m. every day to be the best that I can be. To see how those habits have led to success for him makes me feel hopeful for my own future."
Following Wilson's speech, students were invited to tour Alaska Airlines' hangar, mingle with the carrier's employees and "kick the tires" of Alaska's "Spirit of the Islands" Boeing 737.
To memorialize the day's event, students were sent home wearing lime green bracelets that read "Take Flight 7.10.13," certificates and a bookmark with the pledge they made today. Large banners that read "Pledge It. Prove It. Take Flight." were also provided for teachers to display at their schools this fall to remind students of their commitment to their education.
Alaska Air Group sponsors an average of 60 youth and education programs throughout Washington state every year. With the support of 6,700 Washington-based employees, Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air donate thousands of volunteer hours and give more than $1.8 million every year to organizations like Aviation High School, City Year Seattle/King County, the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Washington and Alaska, Junior Achievement, Aviation Day and the Independent Colleges of Washington, to name a few.
Students everywhere are invited to "Pledge It. Prove It. Take Flight." and commit to graduating high school. View the pledge online at http://bit.ly/14ITwaR .
Editor's note: High resolution photos of Wilson and students are available for download from Alaska Airlines online image gallery at http://splash.alaskasworld.com/newsroom/ASNews/photos.asp.
About Alaska Airlines
Alaska Airlines, a subsidiary of Alaska Air Group (NYSE: ALK), together with its partner regional airlines, serves 95 cities through an expansive network in Alaska, the Lower 48, Hawaii, Canada and Mexico. Alaska Airlines has ranked "Highest in Customer Satisfaction Among Traditional Network Carriers" in the J.D. Power and Associates North America Airline Satisfaction StudySM for six consecutive years from 2008 to 2013. For reservations, visit www.alaskaair.com. For more news and information, visit the Alaska Airlines Newsroom at www.alaskaair.com/newsroom.
SOURCE Alaska Airlines