Student’s tie design takes flight with Southwest Airlines

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The odds of winning were sky high. Staff whittled some 5,100 entries to 20 or so. Final ballots listed only five.

One thing was for sure: the contest would end with a tie. That’s an important distinction from ending in a tie like a soccer match.

Southwest Airlines sponsors an annual tie design contest open to fifth-graders in its Adopt-A-Pilot program. A likeness of the winning design becomes a real necktie that all 900 pilots involved with the program wear throughout the following year.

A Ss. Simon and Jude student defied the odds. Several Southwest Airlines staff members from its Dallas headquarters flew to Phoenix Feb. 24 and joined the school’s own resident Southwest Adopt-A-Pilot for the surprise announcement.

Emily Thu Nguyen, a sixth-grader at Ss. Simon and Jude, poses with Southwest Airlines pilots including Erick D, who teaches the Adopt-A-Pilot curriculum to fifth-graders each year. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Emily Thu Nguyen, a sixth-grader at Ss. Simon and Jude, poses with Southwest Airlines pilots including Erick Dieckman, who teaches the Adopt-A-Pilot curriculum to fifth-graders each year. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Emily Thu Nguyen won the nationwide contest. Now a sixth-grader, Nguyen showed the entire student body the framed memento of her achievement during the awards assembly. It showcased her original colored pencil design next to the physical tie that features slight modifications — namely the addition of the U.S. flag.

(Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Emily Bguyen’s original artwork (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

“I just wanted to incorporate anything that stood with Southwest,” Nguyen told The Catholic Sun. She paid special attention to company colors, the pattern on its planes and the logo. She estimated her design, which featured an in-flight plane sandwiched between buildings and the sun, took an hour to create.

The airline’s pilots who volunteer their time at schools voted on the final winner. That included Eric Dieckman, a Ss. Simon and Jude parent who is in his fifth year both as a Southwest pilot and an Adopt-A-Pilot teacher. He knew there was something special about Nguyen’s design the day she turned it in, but there was no guarantee of how far it would go.

Nguyen’s name and school now grace the back of the tie worn by some 900 Southwest Airlines pilots nationwide. They’ve only been wearing it two weeks, but comments from passengers, flight attendants and passersby are already stacking up.

“I was down in Mexico of all places and they were like, ‘I like your tie,’” Dieckman recalled.

The neckwear is among a handful of themed ties the airline allows its pilots to wear.

“It’s even cooler to tell them it was one of my kids at school,” he said.

Nugyen’s achievement also means she and her family get three tickets on Southwest Airlines. Nguyen said when her family travels, it’s often by car to California, but being able to fly there will make it quicker.

The tie design contest isn’t the first art contest in which Nguyen fared well. Her design for Ss. Simon and Jude’s Accelerated Reader effort was selected as the winner last school year.

The next Adopt-A-Pilot course kicks off at Ss. Simon and Jude after Easter break. The four-week curriculum looks at the science of flying and blends in other core subjects. Students also research careers and develop various life skills.

“It’s set up for core values. It’s teaching them to follow your dreams,” Dieckman said.

The first class begins with informal speeches about their dream career and flight path to get there. Dieckman concludes each year with a field trip to the airport to see the various careers in action.

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