Published by Tom Thinnes on Thu, Aug 03, 2017
“I've never known an industry that can get into people's blood the way aviation does,” stated Robert Six, founder of Continental Airlines. For Monique Grayson, her first infusion occurred at the age of 12, when she took her first flight to San Francisco with her family. Little did the young girl from Kalamazoo, Michigan realize how this initial aviation experience would direct and change her life.
From this initial experience, young Grayson was hooked. “I was extremely curious to know how the heavy aircraft, along with the passengers, fuel, and bags were going to defy gravity for four hours and land safely at our destination,” she recalled. Knowing that pixie dust was the fictional invention of J.M. Barrie and his cast of characters in Neverland, Grayson’s interest in flight was grounded in reality. She wanted to know what made planes work and who was responsible for operating them. Looking back at that time, Grayson remembers thinking, “When I realized who was in charge of us defying gravity, I said to myself, ‘I’ve got to do that!’”
As a student at Kalamazoo Central High School, Grayson was a day late and a dollar short for one of the most life changing declarations in high school history: the announcement of the Kalamazoo Promise. This scholarship pays up to 100% of tuition at any of Michigan’s colleges or universities for any graduating student from a Kalamazoo Public School. Graduating from Kalamazoo Central in 2006, the Giant alumna was a year too early for the scholarship. While this may have derailed and detoured some students, Grayson was not deterred. With a clear determination about her future, she buckled down and focused her attention on her main goal: becoming a professional pilot.
Enrolling at in the fall of 2006, Grayson began her quest towards the goal of being the person “in charge of defying gravity.” However, like many students who choose to pursue the dream of aviation, the journey consisted of many successes and memories, but also a few challenges. Looking back, Grayson remembered some of her firsts. “My first time taxiing an airplane,” she said, “I was so nervous. But, taxiing evolved into flying, which gave me confidence to solo.” As many new pilots recall, the progressive nature of flying soon leads to the best part – operating the stick and actually controlling the aircraft. “My second solo was the most memorable,” remembered Grayson. “My flight instructor, Brandon Jones, caught me off guard at Sturgis Airport. He hopped out of the plane at the end of the runway and let me go.” And away she would go!
Grayson took advantage of her time at WMU. Not only did she leverage the ability to pursue an aviation degree, she also embraced the many opportunities offered by a full service university. Understanding the global nature of aviation, and the importance of diversifying a resume, Grayson chose to double major in aviation flight science and Spanish. Additionally, she took advantage of one of the many study abroad opportunities offered at WMU and traveled abroad for a semester. While most aviation students fondly remember events associated with airplanes at their alma mater, Grayson’s memory is very clear, “Hands down, studying abroad in Spain was my greatest memory” at Western.
On top of the memories she garnered at WMU, Grayson also fondly remembers a number of the faculty and staff who assisted her during her tenure at the University. When asked about a favorite faculty or staff member, Grayson replied, “Oh boy! There are so many!” However, after a short contemplation, she began rattling off several familiar names, “(Jim) Whittles! I loved his way of teaching. Dominic Nicolai was a tough cookie, but he ensured that you knew your material. Rob Bunday and Tom McLaughlin were my biggest supporters throughout the entire process. Tom Thinnes was super supportive of me (and a fellow Kalamazoo Central Maroon Giant!). Linda Dillon always had encouraging words. RoseElla P. Lyke was my confidant. Aletta Roebuck! She was the sweetest woman ever and was such an encouragement to me. Beth Seiler – awesome support. Gil Sinclair … gotta love that guy. Last but not least, Tom Grossman had my best interest at heart.”
A story in aviation wouldn’t be a story without some challenges. Grayson was not immune to these either. As a WMU College of Aviation student who attended prior to the advent of the aviation shuttle service, transportation was a challenge for the young co-ed. “The biggest challenge that I faced was lack of transportation in college,” stated Grayson. “It was difficult to complete my private pilot rating because of my inability to get to flight lessons.” Even after the transportation issue was fixed, Grayson faced other obstacles. “There were times when I doubted if this was the career for me. Once I was able to show up consistently for training, I would then run out of money. I’d take two steps forward and end up three steps backward. I honestly felt like this wasn’t the career for me.”
However, with a determination to persevere, Grayson continued her lessons, and kept moving forward - regardless of the inevitable few setbacks. Although the shadow of doubt would occasionally creep in, she knew what she wanted, “I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. I stuck with it. And, because I didn’t throw in the towel, I’m living my dream.”
Graduating with the double major from Western Michigan University in 2010, Grayson set out in the pursuit of her dream. Since earning the title of WMU Alumna, she has worked hard toward her goal of becoming a professional pilot. She was a first officer at Endeavor Air, then moved to Compass Airlines where she started as a first officer and soon upgraded to captain. Thinking back to those times, Grayson fondly recalls, “Getting my first job at an airline was memorable, as well as upgrading to captain at Compass.” Currently, Grayson is a first officer at Delta Air Lines.
With the ascent to Delta Air Lines, Grayson has begun to think of her next steps. “Honestly, I want to reach back and help the next generation. I also want to do more than fly the line at Delta. There are so many great opportunities here. Who knows what I’ll get into.”