HONOLULU, Oahu, Hawaii – A specially painted Alaska Airlines jet adorned with a Honolulu high school student’s winning design honoring the culture of the Aloha State touched down today in Honolulu before a crowd of students, educators and travelers. The unique paint theme, dubbed the “Spirit of the Islands,” was created by 17-year-old Aaron Nee.
Nee’s design was selected from among more than 2,700 submissions by students across the Hawaiian Islands in a statewide “Paint-the-Plane” contest sponsored by Alaska Airlines, in partnership with the Hawaii State Department of Education and Hawaii Association of Independent Schools. A 10-member judging panel, comprised of Hawaii artists, educators and other local community members, carefully scored and selected the three top designs, which were then voted on by Hawaii residents in an online public vote.
As the grand prize winner, Nee received a trip for four to any of the carrier’s destinations and a $5,000 scholarship.
“This has been an incredible opportunity to share Hawaii’s beauty with people throughout the country,” said Nee. “This contest helped me to sharpen my graphic design skills and demonstrated that with hard work, attention to detail and determination, great things are possible.”
Nee’s winning design displays a voyaging canoe depicting the cultural diversity of the Islands, a bright yellow hibiscus (the state flower), the Hawaiian Island chain and the phrase “Spirit of the Islands.”
The soon-to-be Kaiser High School senior is a nearly straight-A student and a decorated member of the school’s Air Force ROTC program. Known for his artistic ability and interest in graphic design and athletics, Nee said he plans to invest his $5,000 for college and take his family to visit relatives in New York, where he hopes to see snow for the first time.
The “Spirit of the Islands” Boeing 737-800 was revealed to Nee at Honolulu International Airport, where he was joined by his parents, Robin and Mitch Connell, and father Aaron Garrett Nee, as well as Hawaii Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui, Hawaii Tourism Authority President and CEO Mike McCartney, Kaiser High School Principal John Sosa and several of Nee’s teachers. Also joining the welcoming ceremony were the 12 finalists and honorable mention winners, who received prizes and scholarships for their entries, as well.
“What better way to celebrate the beautiful Hawaiian Islands than to promote its lush tropical landscape, cultural diversity and pristine waters on a flying mural that will tour most of our route network from Hawaii to San Diego, and to Boston and beyond,” said Alaska Airlines President and CEO Brad Tilden. “On behalf of all of Alaska Airlines employees, I’d like to congratulate Aaron and the other 12 finalists and honorable mention winners whose stunning artwork stood out as the best among their peers.”
Izabela Hamilton, a 12th grader at Seabury Hall on the island of Maui, placed second for her design featuring a male and female hula dancer against a backdrop of ocean waves and windswept mountain cliffs. Sophia Cleek, a sixth grader at Kapolei Middle School on Oahu, placed third for her design depicting a voyaging canoe sailing around the Islands. Hamilton and Cleek will each receive a trip for four to any Alaska Airlines destination and a $1,000 scholarship. The 10 other honorable mention winners were awarded a $1,000 scholarship each. A dedicated website, www.alaskaair.com/hawaii, highlights the top 13 student designs submitted for the contest.
“Congratulations to Aaron and the other students who are sharing the true spirit of the Islands through their designs,” said Schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi, Hawaii State Department of Education. “We are grateful to Alaska Airlines for providing this opportunity for our students to shine.”
The aircraft will fly throughout most of Alaska Airlines’ network, connecting destinations from Hawaii to San Diego and from Anchorage as far south as Mexico.
The “Spirit of the Islands” contest is the third time Alaska Airlines has turned to the public to paint a plane. The Spirit of Alaska Statehood aircraft paint scheme was created by a 16-year-old Sitka student in a similar statewide contest celebrating Alaska’s 50-year anniversary of statehood. In 2011, two soccer fans designed the MLS Portland “Timbers Jet” to celebrate the airline’s jersey sponsorship of the Portland, Ore., soccer team.