Father and Son Graduate Together at Embry-Riddle Fall Commencement

Father and son D.J. and Tanner Cassady
Father and son D.J. and Tanner Cassady shared the graduation stage together last weekend, earning a master’s in Aeronautics and a bachelor’s in Aeronautical Science, respectively. (Photo: Embry-Riddle/Connor McShane)

A total of 185 graduates from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University walked the stage at the Prescott Campus commencement ceremony on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023. Among them was Dennis “D.J.” Cassady — who works at the university and earned his master’s degree from the Worldwide Campus — and his son, Tanner — who accepted his diploma from the Prescott Campus.

“The feeling of walking at the commencement ceremony with my son, who was born the year I started working at the university, brings great joy to me,” said D.J., who completed his Master of Science in Aeronautics degree, specializing in Aviation Safety. “I’m truly honored that we can share our milestone achievements together.”

From Simulator to Flight Deck

D.J. began his career at Embry-Riddle in 2000 as an IT technician, which swiftly reignited his passion for flight.

“I have always been fascinated with aviation,” D.J. said. “Starting as an IT technician, I knew I wanted to be working in simulation every time I came to the Flight Line to do computer repairs.” 

He transferred into the field of simulation in 2005, which brought him closer to his dream and also sparked a love for aviation in his young son, Tanner, who got to see and interact with aircraft hardware any time he’d visit his father at work.

“[Embry-Riddle] had an Airbus 320 fixed-base simulator that my dad would let me fly,” Tanner said. “After that, I was hooked.”

Training Future Aviation Leaders

The 2023 Boeing Pilot & Technician Outlook projects a global need for 649,000 new commercial airline pilots over the next 20 years. With a 94.5% job placement rate, Embry-Riddle graduates are well prepared to fill those openings and step into careers as flight instructors, first officers and airline pilots — a goal to which Tanner now aspires.

“When I accumulate my hours needed for hire, I would like to work for the airlines,” said Tanner, who now works alongside his father at the Embry-Riddle Flight Line as a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) and Certified Instrument Instructor (CFII). “I will have many opportunities once I hit the 1,000-hour mark.”

The Long Journey to the Commencement Stage

Tanner began his journey toward a career in flight when he enrolled at the Prescott Campus as an Aeronautical Science (Fixed-Wing) undergraduate. It was around this time when D.J. decided it was time to take his education to the next level, as well.

“For years, I kept telling myself that I should start taking classes toward a master’s degree,” D.J. recalled. “I started my first nine-week term [at the Worldwide Campus] in March 2022.”

Then, on Dec. 16 of this year, the Cassadys’ journeys coincided when they stood together on the commencement stage, fulfilling dreams that had been decades in the making.

“My dad has always been a role model to me,” said Tanner. “To graduate with him at the university where we both now work is totally awesome. To have my diploma from [Embry-Riddle] is an honor because it’s the most prestigious aviation degree one can earn.”

Contributing to Local Expansion

As newly minted alumni, the Cassadys will now turn their focus toward expanding Embry-Riddle’s local footprint, as the campus Flight Line prepares to grow its simulator facilities in 2024.

The university’s Flight Operations in Arizona has been preparing a $9.2 million project to improve its Robertson Flight Simulation Center. The facility will include 16,000 square feet of space for simulators and student space, in addition to a full-motion simulator bay.

“We are confident that the new innovations offered to our students will elevate their experience, ultimately making them safer pilots,” D.J. said.

Posted In: Aviation