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Speech - Defining Success

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12th Annual Great Lakes Regional Awards Ceremony


Remarks As Prepared for Delivery

Thanks, Christina [Drouet].  Great Lakes always has a surprise.  And it’s not all about O’Hare.  Last year, there was

the fire.  Kudos on how you handled that.  And like Christina said, Oshkosh was terrific.  Those aircraft make for a good air show, but I think the pink shirts and the blue shirts are what make it a great air show.  I’m not used to waggling my wings to acknowledge A-T-C.  But anyone who thinks that anyone can do that job really needs to make their way into the tower at Oshkosh.  That’s why getting out into the regions is so important.  The regions are where things happen.  I’ve only been back for a few months now, but boy is it good to get out to see what’s happening on the front lines. 

Let’s turn to why I’m here.  I love these ceremonies; I really do.  

The last commercial passenger fatality in the U.S. was February 12, 2009.  That’s 8-1/2 years ago.  That’s 5 billion passengers ago.  But you wouldn’t know that from what you see or what you read.  The truth is, we’re in the spotlight a lot.  But we usually make the front page only when things go wrong.  Or when someone believes things have gone wrong.  Or may go wrong. 

Well, this ceremony is about when things go right.

What I like most of all is the simple fact that we’re here to salute the people who made things go right.  We’re here to salute excellence … to salute our co-workers who have chosen to make an impact.  They’ve gone out of their way to do the right thing the right way at the right time.

I looked over the award nominations, and they’re impressive.   

Christina just gave me a spoiler alert look.

There’s a thread that runs through them.  The nominees have chosen to make an impact in the lives of others.  They took on the fastballs, the tough challenges, the assignments others try to get out of. 

This ceremony is the front page of success.

As you look back at your life—I’m speaking to the younger ones in the room now—you think you’re going to focus on achievement … on a highlight reel about what you did and how you did it.  The big promotions.  The awards.  The fast car.  A big job.  Victory after victory.  Triumph down the back stretch. 

But as you get older, your perspective is going to change.  You’re going to realize that what you focus on … what you’re really going to think about … is how and when and if you made a difference in the lives of others.  We tend to think of life as a report card.  About whether or not we made straight A-s and the Dean’s list. 

That’s not it.  That’s not it at all.

Success is not about you.  Real success is about what you do for others.  The people we’re honoring today have made it their business to do something good for someone else.  That’s why we call it public service.  They’ve chosen a route that often goes not only without thanks, but usually without even any kind of acknowledgment at all. 

Aviation has a lot of moving parts, and very few people on the outside understand how really big this system really is, much less how it works.  In our business, the passenger thinks about the pilot.  Sometimes the passenger thinks about the controller.  But that’s about it.  The rest of us are nameless and faceless.  For most of us, it never even occurs to outsiders that our jobs even exist.

Let’s get back to why I like these ceremonies.  In this room, you’re not nameless.  You’re not faceless.  The people who know this business know all about you.  Your colleagues know just who you are, and they know just what you do … and what you did that brings you here today.  They know what we know—that it takes more than the guy or gal in the left seat up front to make all this happen.

I want you to know that the jobs you do matter.  Whether you’re an ASI … or someone from Tech Ops at the top of a tower … or the admin who makes sure we all get a check every other Tuesday.  Great Lakes is called the birthplace of aviation—because of the Wrights—and because of the UAS activity in North Dakota.  That’s the past and the future—and you’re responsible for both.  Not a bad legacy to have.  No one is surprised when big things happen here, because you are the kind of people who make big things happen. 

With all that as context, let me say that you are making a difference.  Look back on that with pride.  And know that the people here in this room are proud of you.  And so am I. 

Federal Aviation Administration

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