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Middle School Student Achieves Her Dream of Flying

Valarie Lawson with her aunt

Eighth grade student Valarie Lawson ’25 shares her experience of flying a plane for the first time, inspired by her aunt, pilot Patricia White:

“I have several cousins who are pilots – however, the cousin who inspires me the most is my cousin Patricia (Pat) White. My cousin Pat joined the Air Force when she was 18. She was the first African American woman to complete undergraduate Pilot Training at Vance AFB, Oklahoma. She received her wings from 1st Lt. Pete Hargrove, instructor pilot. She is also the first Black woman to graduate from the Air Force Academy to complete pilot training. 

Pat is a Gulf War veteran and has been a pilot for over 35 years. Currently, Pat is a first officer on the 787 for United Airlines. She has been piloting for the United Airlines for 28 years. Pat’s flight assignments are mostly international – Germany, Japan, Australia, India, and Israel, to name a few destinations. She is on the way back from Tel Aviv, Israel as I am typing. 

When I was 10 years old, Pat told me that I could fly with her when I turned 13. I was so excited for this summer because I was turning 13, however, COVID stopped our plans. In 2018, my cousin Pat flew across the country from Nevada to Connecticut to attend a Girls in Aviation program with me just for the day. I felt extremely proud because she was the only African American pilot at the event and she flew so far just to support me.  

At Walker’s, we learn that girls are capable of accomplishing anything that males can achieve. My cousin Pat is my hero pilot. She has broken a few barriers – she was the first African American graduate from the Air Force Academy to complete pilot training, she is one of a very few African American female pilots, and she is just amazing. I want to be a barrier-breaking, over-achieving, brave and amazing OBGYN who can also pilot a plane just for fun.”

Although I couldn’t fly with my cousin Pat this summer, I was still determined to fly when I turned 13. On July 13, I co-piloted my mom’s friend’s small aircraft out of Brainard Airport in Hartford, CT. We flew over East Hampton, Middletown, Newington, Cromwell, and New Britain. We could see Long Island Sound from where we were. Taking off and landing in a smaller aircraft feels different from a larger aircraft. When we took off, I could feel more turbulence, however landing was smoother. I think the scariest part was when I turned the plane around. I thought I was turning the wheel too much. Being up in the air felt scary, thrilling, and breathtaking. I know cousin Pat is proud of me for achieving my goal of flying at the age 13 and I can’t wait to do it again.”