When I was growing up, my family didn’t have much money (both my parents were teachers). Vacations meant piling into our gray 1962 Ford Falcon station wagon for never-ending cross-country trips from New Mexico to Buffalo to visit relatives. Playing the license plate game and stopping at Stuckey’s provided some diversion but I always wondered if there was a better way to cover all those miles.
So, as a teenager, when I took my first flight, I could barely contain my excitement. But that didn’t compare to the first time I boarded a Boeing 747. The flight attendant had to nudge me to my seat because I kept stopping to stare at the plane’s massive interior: twin aisles and what seemed like enough space to hold everyone who lived in my small town.
The 747 changed the world, allowing people like you and me, for not too much money, to travel across the country (or the world) in a matter of hours, not days. That plane, designed by the late Joe Sutter, ’43, is one of the greatest examples of innovation the world has ever seen.
So I felt a tad sad to read that the last two U.S. airlines that fly 747s were going to retire the Queen of the Skies. I smile every time I drive by the Museum of Flight and notice the red-and-white 747 named the City of Everett—the very first one ever built, in 1969—sitting quietly near flashier planes like the Concorde and a retired Air Force One.
To me, the 747 is more than a plane. It is a winged monument to the University of Washington. It was here that Sutter—the son of Eastern European immigrants—was exposed to the wonders of higher education, where he had the opportunity to soak up knowledge, be pushed by his professors and classmates—and go on to do something that changed the world for the better.
But the fact is, this happens every day at the UW’s three campuses. It happens via the spirit and opportunity the University imbues into every single student who arrives here from every conceivable circumstance, from the Roosevelt High School valedictorian to the 65-year-old returning to school after a long career to finally earn that longed-for master’s degree in history.
The 747 was once just a dream. But thanks to public higher education, dreams like that can take flight every day.