Evans High School graduate Jamail Larkins descended from the wild blue yonder Friday to encourage students at his alma mater to reach for the stars.
The 22-year-old air-show pilot, small-business owner, college student and Federal Aviation Administration ambassador spoke to about 500 students Friday morning at Evans High about his life, goal-seeking and career opportunities in the aerospace industry.
Later that day, he also spoke to pupils at Columbia Middle School.
"I can assure you, with a little hard work and a little luck, you can accomplish anything you want," Mr. Larkins told students at Evans High.
An airplane ride at age 12 sparked Mr. Larkins' interest in aviation, and he became one of the youngest certified pilots in the country when he flew solo two years later.
To pay for flight lessons, Mr. Larkins created his own Web-based business selling pilot supplies and flight-lesson pamphlets at age 15. He earned enough to afford his own $60,000 single-prop airplane, which he still flies today in air shows, before he graduated from high school in 2002.
His business today, Larkins Enterprises Inc., sells planes, employs four full-time workers and has offices in Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Daytona Beach, Fla.
In his second job, as ambassador for the FAA's Aviation and Space Education program, Mr. Larkins speaks at about 180 schools a year to promote aerospace careers.
He does all this while attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, where he will graduate from in December before seeking an MBA degree.
Mr. Larkins discussed programs designed to encourage youths interested in flying, including Young Eagles and Careers in Aviation, which he co-founded.
Evans High senior Ashley Elrod, 17, is divided between pursuing a career in the medical field or as an airline pilot. She said she has had many opportunities to speak with nurses but never with a pilot.
When she heard Mr. Larkins speak about Young Eagles, which pairs interested teens with a pilot for at least one free flying lesson, her interest was piqued.
"That's something I definitely want to do," Ashley said. "It's certainly a good way for me to find out if it's something I'm interested in."
Mr. Larkins said his lecture tour is meant to target teens who are interested in flying but don't know where to begin.
"I experienced the same sort of problems of not knowing who to turn to," he said. "Because of the technological expertise involved with flying, there's a perception that the aerospace community is sort of exclusive. I want to make it more inclusive."
Online links to Web sites devoted to helping teens learn to fly are available on Mr. Larkins' Web site, www.jamaillarkins.com.
Reach Donnie Fetter at (706) 868-1222, ext. 113, or firstname.lastname@example.org.