Why I Help Kids Dream Big Dreams

Why I Help Kids Dream Big Dreams

Multimedia from this Release

Saturday, October 13, 2012 - 8:00am



Why I Help Kids Dream Big Dreams

This is a guest post by Southwest Airlines pilot, Gary Hooyman.

Recently, you learned about one of my Adopt-A-Pilot students, 12-year-old Emily from Trenton, MO, and the opportunity I had to take her big dream on the dance floor to 30,000 feet.  After you watch the world premiere of Southwest’s short film, The Voyage of a Dream,” I hope you’ll agree with me that’s it’s so important to help kids dream big dreams, because if they don’t, they might never go after that dream.  Here’s why I was motivated to do what I did.

I have been a Southwest Pilot for nearly 11 years now.  When I saw a life-sized cutout poster advertising Adopt-A-Pilot during my initial training, I knew I wanted to give back through this program.  At that time, my three daughters were 6, 4, and 2.  When I was able to participate in Adopt-A-Pilot the next year, I introduced the opportunity to my children’s school in Edmond, Oklahoma.  From there, I moved to Trenton, MO, and since then, I have been adopted by at least one and even as many as six classes every year. 

I discovered I love another thing as well—teaching and mentoring; helping others make sense of what they want out of life.  Whether it is teaching them where to focus their attention when executing a crosswind landing maneuver, or how to solve a challenging physics problem, or what career path might best suit them, I enjoy helping young people through the process to the point of confidence.  So, for years, I lead my Adopt-a-Pilot program with the hope that I could help students see, a little earlier in life, that loving what you do is the key to long term happiness and success—however you decide to define it. 

To help with that endeavor, I began to seek out others from the local community who were experts in the fields most common to my student's interests who would hopefully convey that sense of passion in their work that I was trying to help my students "catch."  As you might imagine, fifth graders can be a little reserved and bashful around their friends about a more grown-up concept like "passion."  I really hoped that I could help bring my students out of their shells, even if just for a little bit, so they can feel free to dream their own dreams. 

Thanks to another Southwest Airlines Pilot, I began applying his idea and asked my students to write an essay on what they wanted to be when they grow up, which I then would take on the road with me.  During a long flight, I’ll make an announcement describing the Adopt-A-Pilot program and ask for help from Passengers who are in the same or similar job or career and are willing to write a few sentences or paragraphs of encouragement or advice to my students.  I love this approach because it not only gives students some individualized feedback from a person from as far away as Australia or Rio de Janeiro (how cool is that?!), but it also broadens public awareness and perception among our Customers and those whom they tell about the Adopt-A-Pilot program and the more than 40,000 students we reach every year.


Emily's essay was exceptional, like many I have received from my students over the years.  She conveyed a sense of passion and commitment to a future career in dance that came across in just a few simple sentences.  But, it was the ringing of the Flight Attendant call button and the response from Andrea Spungen on the flight when I read Emily’s letter, who just so happens to be the Co-Chairman of the NYC Ballet Gala.  Her response back to Emily with an invitation to go to the NYC Ballet Gala and meet professional ballet dancers made me see the big opportunity I had to make on this little dreamer.  Whether Emily ends up pursuing a life on stage dancing or not, I am sure she will never forget this experience, and I am convinced that it will help Emily choreograph her bright future!


I get tremendous pleasure every year presenting the Adopt-A-Pilot program with my own little spin—it’s really the best job or career anybody can have.  I know this because I’m doing something I love.  I never thought I wanted to "drive the bus" for a major airline.  But, then I learned that my real passion was to deliver to people the sense of safety and security they have in a confident, competent, and personable Pilot.  It's what I do, it's what I love.