"The Next Generation of Discovery"
J. Randolph Babbitt, Flushing, New York
May 21, 2011

Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology Commencement Address

Thank you, Mr. President (Dr. John Fitzpatrick) and distinguished guests, faculty, administrators, family, and most off all, students.  It is truly an honor and a privilege to be here today.

As I look upon you this morning, I know we are gathered here because we share a common love: the love of aviation and discovery.

We share the thrill of flight, the challenge of navigation and the urge for a quest and a journey. We want to unlock the secrets of natural laws to find new ways to soar like eagles, to explore the vastness of space and to glide softly back to earth.

What I’d like to do is talk with you today about what lies ahead for all who participate in the future of aviation, pushing it to newer, safer, heights.  

It's a growing industry that is becoming more technologically sophisticated. Change is the only constant. Whether you are studying engineering, management, robotics, air traffic control, aircraft operations or any of the majors here at Vaughn, your skills are needed in the world of aviation.

We’re at a pivotal time in our history. As we move into the Next Generation air transportation system, we are transforming from the ground-based navigation of the last century to the satellite-based navigation of tomorrow. The entire world is changing the way it handles air traffic.  

With NextGen our aviation system will be safer and more efficient. Aircraft will burn less fuel and emit fewer greenhouse gases.

Commercial pilots will be able to look at a screen and see other aircraft around them in the sky and on runways and taxiways. Terrain and obstacles will be more apparent in all kinds of weather, day or night.

It won’t be long until you are the leaders of innovations like these, and it’s appropriate you’ve started your career here.

This college was founded 29 years after Wilbur and Orville Wright made their historic flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903.  For all the Wright Brothers' innovation and entrepreneurial spirit, even they could not imagine the incredible, swift changes that would take place in the industry they spawned.

According to Orville Wright's famous prediction:

"No flying machine will ever fly from New York to Paris, because no known motor can run at the requisite speed for four days without stopping." 

Well, if you recall, yesterday was the 84th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh’s famous nonstop solo flight from New York to Paris.

By the time I fell in love with flying, more had changed, but the thrill was the same.

I remember the excitement I felt when I soloed for the first time at the age of 16. Back then, Dulles International Airport had just opened in the outskirts of Washington, D.C.  The airport's first flight was an Eastern Airlines Super Electra Turboprop. And a gallon of gasoline cost 28 cents.

How things have changed. Now we have composite materials that vie with aluminum, we have micro-jets that evolved from cruise missile technology and fly-by-wire controls that automate more cockpit functions.

So what can you look forward to? Probably wonders not yet imagined. But in the near future, you’ll hear more about NextGen.

Your professors have already told you about the air traffic improvements that your generation will inherit.

You are our Next Generation.

You will move from traditional skyways to direct streamlined routes. NextGen will continue to change the way you approach airports, with optimized descents, literally gliding, rather than stepping down – to save fuel and the environment. NextGen technology allows more precise approaches in mountainous terrain too. While radar can't see around mountains, NextGen can.

NextGen needs people with an array of skill sets and a passion for aviation. I know both of those are on full display in this room. Whether you are interested in planning the airport of the future, redesigning our airspace or building the quietest, most fuel efficient jet engine ever – we need you.

Today, commencement day, you will start your own journeys. Many of you are the first in your families to graduate from college. I commend you. This day is a testament to your perseverance. It’s a testament to those who loved you and helped you. And it’s a testament to your unwavering belief in yourselves.

You will carry forth innovations in engineering, electronics, aircraft maintenance, air traffic control and business management. And you will be charged with serious responsibilities that require thoughtfulness and integrity. As you go through the checklists of life, remember to be patient, to respect others and to keep a sense of groundedness, no matter how high you fly.

We need your professionalism, your initiative, and your constant attention to innovation to ensure that our nation continues to be a world leader in aviation and high tech industries.  

I will ask you to remember something else Orville Wright said, something that reveals his curious and questioning spirit: 

"If we all worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true, is really true, there would be little hope of advance." 

I ask you to take this to heart. We haven't reached the limits of technology or the solutions to important challenges of air travel, space exploration or managing people or businesses.  

Those answers are out there. They are waiting to be unlocked by you and your classmates.  I know you have the heart and intelligence and motivation to do it, and I can't wait to see the contributions you'll make to the next century of discovery and innovation.