Ever since he was a little kid, New Richmond High School senior Ben Poppovich has loved planes, aviation and the thought of flying through the sky.

"I got into aviation because I was around planes a lot when I was a kid. I live right next to the airport, so I'm always seeing them flying in and over the top of our house. I've always had a passion and I've watched YouTube videos and read articles about it for a long time, so that's kind of how I decided this was what I wanted to do," Poppovich said. "And I've been getting into it more and more as time went on."

After he walks across the stage to accept his diploma at the 2019 NRHS Commencement Ceremony on Friday, May 24, Poppovich will be one step closer to making aviation a permanent part of his life.

"I didn't decide I wanted to go into the aviation until my junior year, so I started looking around at ways to get into it. My cousin went to the Air Force Academy and flew in the Air Force as an officer, so I talked to her about it," Poppovich said. "I didn't really know about the whole commitment thing with joining the service, so I kind of wanted to go to college. But after touring colleges and realizing how expensive it can be, it seemed like it would be about the same commitment as going into the Air Force."

Poppovich has already taken and passed the air traffic controller exam and will be leaving to become an air traffic controller with the Air Force on Aug. 6.

"I'd rather fly, but becoming an air traffic controller is right along the lines of what I want to do. Not that I don't want to be an air traffic controller, but my lifelong passion has been to get into the aerospace field. This is a good pathway to get my aviation license to fly and such," Poppovich said. "The test to become an air traffic controller is pretty difficult. A lot of people don't pass and it is kind of a high-security test that I had to go to the Twin Cities to take. I had to sit in a small room and look at a radar for a couple hours."

After the school year is over, Poppovich will go through basic training for two months this summer or next fall, before attending tech school in Biloxi, Miss.

"The thing I'm looking forward to the most about going into the Air Force is having the structure the military offers while I'm starting my career. That way I'm not just thrown out there and expected to find a job. It will offer structure and really help me get my career going," Poppovish said.

Following his tech school training, Poppovich would take part in on-the-job training for about a year, then he would decide what base he wants to be stationed at as part of his six-year contract with the Air Force.

"I plan, because I love to travel, to try and see the world a little while I'm in the Air Force. I hope to deploy overseas somewhere. I'm looking forward to the experience of being in the Air Force. Talking to my cousin about her experiences has been really interesting and it's been good to hear from someone who had a similar path as I'll be taking," Poppovich said.

Although Poppovich is ready to move on from high school, he will remember all the fun experiences he had during his time at New Richmond High School.

"I definitely lived in the moment and tried to take school as seriously as I could. I didn't do so hot, but I definitely figured out what I liked and what I didn't like and I used a lot of my resources to figure that out," Poppovich said. "I really enjoyed getting to meet new people while I was in high school. I also liked how high school had more opportunities to go to sporting events and activities you could be part of."

One of Poppovich's favorite classes during high school was applied communications with Mrs. Karno, who - along with Mrs. Huber - was one of his favorite teachers.

Once he finishes his six-year contract with the military, Poppovich hopes to continue to be part of the aerospace field.

"As long as I like it, I'll probably go into air traffic control once I'm out of the military. If I don't get my pilot license while I'm in the military, I want to make sure I get my private license and maybe get a small plane. I love the idea of flying, so I want to stay in that as long as I can," Poppovich said.