Embry-Riddle Grads Cleared for Takeoff at Spring Commencement Ceremonies

More than 1,700 graduating students from Embry‑Riddle Aeronautical University crossed the commencement stage this week in ceremonies held at the university’s two residential campuses, in Daytona Beach, Florida, and Prescott, Arizona.

“As you move into the next phase of your lives, hold on to the lessons and values you have learned here at Embry-Riddle — especially your commitment to intellectual discovery and service. This will guide you to even greater heights in the years to come,” Embry‑Riddle President P. Barry Butler, Ph.D., told the graduating class at a Daytona Beach Campus event. “As graduates, you join a proud community of Eagle alumni who are bonded together by this institution — ready to support each other and soar.”

Woman gives commencement speech.Kaley Eaton, who graduated with an Engineering Physics degree, was one of two featured student speakers at Daytona Beach Campus commencement ceremonies Monday, May 6. Senior Class Council President Evgeniia Egorova spoke at the day’s second event. (Photo: Embry-Riddle/David Massey)

A total of 1,245 students from Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach Campus received diplomas at two different ceremonies for bachelor's degree recipients held Monday, May 6, at the Ocean Center, in addition to an event for master's and Ph.D. grads Tuesday, May 7, in Embry-Riddle’s ICI Center. The graduates included 1,064 students who earned bachelor’s degrees, 169 who earned master’s degrees and 12 who earned doctorates. Three Embry-Riddle Worldwide graduates also attended the ceremonies: one who received a bachelor’s degree and two who earned graduate degrees.

Meteorology graduate Heidi Erfourth received the 2024 John C. Adams, Jr. Community Service Award, and Aeronautical Science graduate Nathaniel West received the 2024 Excellence in Academics, Leadership & Service Award.

One of the featured undergraduate student speakers was Kaley Eaton, who received a Bachelor of Science in Engineering Physics with minors in Applied Mathematics and Computer and Electrical Engineering, and spoke at a ceremony for graduates of the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Engineering. Eaton is a first-generation college student. She has already secured a position as a software engineer with Lockheed Martin Space.

Evgeniia Egorova, an international student and senior class council president who earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, spoke at a later ceremony for graduates of the College of Aviation and the David B. O’Maley College of Business. In her speech, she alluded to the dramatic transformation that she and her classmates underwent at Embry-Riddle, starting with their freshmen days.

“Those who knew me back then, it was a rocky start. The culture shock really hit me in the face, I was homesick and had no direction in life,” Egorova said. “Yesterday, we were going through orientation and trying to find our classrooms. Today, we leave here with jobs and opportunities under our belt.”

Commencement Speaker Steve Nordlund

Steve Nordlund, an Embry-Riddle alumnus (BS '90) and Board of Trustees member, as well as a leader at The Boeing Company, told Daytona Beach Campus graduates to "make a difference." Quoting Dr. Steve Sliwa, a former Embry-Riddle president, Nordlund said, "Making money is easy. The real reward is making a difference."

Nordlund told a story of being approached at a party by a Marine whose life had been saved by a ScanEagle, an uncrewed surveillance and reconnaissance aerial vehicle developed by Sliwa and Nordlund. Nordlund said the Marine "came up to us out of the blue and said, 'you built my guardian angel.'"

"That moment was a highlight of my career. Frankly, that moment was a highlight in my life," Nordlund said. "As Embry-Riddle graduates, you will leave here today and go on to put your fingerprints on aerospace systems that change the world, connect global economies, bring loved ones together and save and protect lives."

FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker was the commencement speaker at the ceremony for Daytona Beach graduates of the College of Aviation and the David B. O’Maley College of Business. Whitaker was nominated by President Biden and unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate to lead the FAA in October, and has already brought new safety technology to airports, hired more air traffic controllers and confronted the issue of mental health in aviation.

Whitaker talked about the four decades since his own college graduation, during which "flying has become the safest mode of transportation by a large margin," attributing that success to "industry, government and academia and institutions like Embry-Riddle working together to develop safety systems that are now used around the world."

Referring to a time 40 years from now, Whitaker said most deliveries to homes will be made by drones, remotely piloted air taxis will ferry passengers to airports, most long-haul travel will be supersonic and take only half as long as current flights, and rocket propulsion will speed passengers halfway around the globe in about two hours, a trip that now takes 14 hours.

"Many of you will be spending your careers making these new technologies a reality," Whitaker said, "which is to say to you new graduates, 'You're in for a very interesting ride.'"

Forty-eight ROTC cadets commissioned into the U.S. Air Force at the commencement ceremonies, as well. Thirty-five commissioned into the U.S. Army, 17 into the Navy and five into the Marines.

Prescott Campus: Inspiration for Grads

At the Saturday, May 4, Prescott commencement, speaker Norman Knight, director of flight operations at the NASA Johnson Space Center, delivered an inspiring address in which he reflected on his own time as a student at Embry-Riddle (BS ‘90) and his longtime career at NASA. Knight said one of his two sons was in the graduating class.

Woman at college commencement,.
Amalie Hansen, who was the featured student speaker at the Prescott Campus commencement event, earned a bachelor's degree in Business, Security and Intelligence at the event and won the Chancellor's Award. (Photo: Embry-Riddle/Connor Mcshane)
Knight recounted to the graduates and their supporters how Embry-Riddle prepared him for his career by offering him hands-on learning, team-building experiences and professors who “truly cared.”

“I am happy to say these values are still strong on this campus today as the faculty and staff daily pour their hearts into teaching and mentoring the leaders of tomorrow,” Knight said.

Referring to the graduates’ challenge of having started their freshman year during the Covid-19 pandemic, he said they “deserve credit for having practiced two important lessons in life: that of persevering and of being flexible when things don’t go the way you expect.”

He also urged them to persevere through inevitable career challenges, referring to his own struggles over the years.

“When you look at me today, what you see is where I am now, my title and status, but what you don’t see are the many twists and turns and highs and lows that my career encountered,” Knight said. “I have had a great ride, but just know that there were thunderstorms and turbulence to contend with as there are in everyone’s journey.

“Some of the best advice I ever received was to ask yourself the questions, ‘Are you the best in the position you are in? Are you the go-to person?’ If yes, then keep your head down, and the right folks will notice. If no, then do what it takes to get there.”

A total of 489 graduates participated in the Prescott ceremony, including 11 receiving master’s degrees, 29 Air Force ROTC, four Army ROTC and one Navy ROTC. Seven of the graduates were Embry-Riddle Worldwide students, including two receiving bachelor’s degrees and five master’s degrees.

The featured student speaker, and recipient of the Chancellor’s Award, Amalie Hansen, explained how Embry-Riddle helped her develop as a person.

“When I first set foot on this campus, I was a shy girl, far from home, unsure of where this journey would lead me,” said Hansen, who received a bachelor's degree in Cyber Intelligence and Security. “Embry-Riddle hasn’t just taught me about cybersecurity; it’s taught me how to find my voice in a field dominated by men. I’ve grown from that shy girl into a confident woman, discovering the strength within myself to advocate not only for my own success but for the success of others.”

Dr. Anette Karlsson, Prescott Campus chancellor, who led the ceremony, also touched on the graduates’ ability to succeed.

“Success is when preparedness meets luck,” Karlsson said. “I know your time here has helped you to prepare for your success!”

Another 381 students from Embry-Riddle’s Worldwide Campus also graduated last week in an additional commencement event.