Captain Katy Higgins, the first-ever female Blue Angels pilot, spoke to the Metro Achievement Center’s 4th-12th grade students and at the 19th Annual MAC Luncheon this week. She dazzled both crowds with her tale of perseverance and overcoming the odds to make history.
Higgins, a third generation pilot (both grandfathers flew planes in World War II and her father was a pilot as well), spoke of the importance of a life of service. Higgins grew up knowing she wanted to serve people somehow, and after considering being a police officer, firefighter and a nun, chose to follow in the footsteps of her relatives.
Higgins lauded Metro’s programs for not only helping girls with academics and instilling confidence, but also for emphasizing the importance of service to their community. In each speech, she referenced Gandhi’s famous quote, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Higgins grew up in Maryland and was the valedictorian of her high school class. She then attended the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD, where she graduated with a degree in Political Science. She followed this degree with a Masters of Arts in International Security from Georgetown. For her military service, Higgins trained to fly C-130s, the military’s cargo plane, and deployed on a combat mission to Afghanistan and a humanitarian mission in Sudan.
Of all of her accomplishments, Higgins said her greatest accomplishment to date was saving the lives of fellow U.S. soldiers who were under attack in Afghanistan. Months later, she met one of the men whose life she had saved, and he personally thanked her. That experience alone let her know that the life of service she had chosen was worth her sacrifice.
After her second deployment, and against all odds, Higgins then began the arduous journey of applying and training to become a Blue Angel. Despite many people discouraging her efforts, Higgins forged ahead, relying on the power she gained from all of her previous experiences to endure the program and ultimately, become the first-ever female Blue Angel.
In her speech to the Metro students, Higgins told of “building up her power” at each level of training, which ultimately equipped her with the confidence and tools to accomplish what once seemed impossible. When asked about doubts along the way, she recalled failing two consecutive flight tests and leaning on her mother to help her persevere. Looking back fondly on her toughest times, she summed them up with, “Calm seas don’t make a skilled sailor.”
Higgins encouraged the girls to find their inner “Warrior Queen” to overcome the negativity around them. She described Warrior Queens as having two sides, a side that is loving and nurturing, and a side that is courageous enough to change the world. She then quoted her favorite queen, Beyonce: “Power isn’t given to you, you have to take it.” She defined power today as seizing opportunities, preparing, and doing the right things to build oneself up. After her speech, Metro girls of all ages glowed with excitement as they asked for pictures, autographs and advice from Higgins and her Blue Angel cohorts.
Higgins equally wowed the audience at the 19th Annual MAC Luncheon. Beyond her own history, Higgins paid homage to previous groundbreaking women in the military who paved the way for her (including Pvt. Opha Mae Johnson, who joined the Marine Corps in 1918, two years before women were allowed to vote).
“Women don’t just wake up one day morning and say, ‘I am going to be the first woman Navy SEAL or the first female to walk on Mars,’” Higgins said. “Organizations like MEF are critical in helping women achieve their greatest potential. In some cases, we need someone else to tell us we are smart, we are capable, we are extraordinary long before we can see it ourselves.”
Higgins went on to praise the work at both Midtown and Metro, stating that Metro is building a generation of women prepared to fight for equal wages and better opportunities, and that Midtown is building a generation of young men who are compassionate, respectful toward women, and open to equality for all.
After the whirlwind of two presentations in two days, Higgins told MEF’s Executive Director Glenn Wilke that she felt she gained more from her Metro visit than anyone, echoing the sentiments of so many MEF volunteers and supporters: that the spirit of service is the ultimate gift.