I never knew of the FFA organization as a student. But my husband Nathan was a FFA member. Now we raise a next generation of FFA members. Together in June we attended the 87th annual State FFA convention in Fargo, N.D. to attend a banquet with our FFA member son Hunter, my parents, friends and many FFA supporters. It was our son’s last State FFA convention and in five to ten years I hope we attend more conventions as parents of future FFA members for our daughters.
My first State FFA convention was more than a decade ago as a Ag Communications Career Development Event (CDE) judge. I knew from my first judging experience, FFA kids had a unique skill set. FFA kids were simply different to me than other teenagers I had met. They looked me in the eye, gave me a firm handshake, spoke with more confidence and had passion in their voices, even the nervous voices. They didn’t all look the same or have the same interests. They were diverse in their contests and interests but shared strong leadership skills and displayed them.
Since my first Ag Communications CDE judging, I’ve experienced FFA at the local, district, state and national level as a speaker, judge, coach and FFA mom. My depth of appreciation can’t be put to words alone. Hunter participated in all but one extra-curricular activity our high school offered. His schedule has been overflowing for five years but far away the most impactful organization on his character and career development was FFA.
Hunter won more in FFA than any sport or music activity. But it was not winning that impacted him the most through FFA. It is the people. As he wrapped up high school with graduation and prepared for State FFA Ag Mechanics and Farm Business Management CDE’s by studying past tests, I said “FFA was a game changer for you in 8th and 9th grade.” Hunter looked up at me and said, “Actually, Mr. Brown was a game changer.” Mr. Brown is the former Wishek ag education teacher and FFA advisor. He pushed Hunter and forced him as a young, unorganized but talented junior higher to prepare and perform.
Mr. Brown lit a fire under Hunter and we saw Hunter respond. As his FFA experiences gained him more confidence and new skills, Hunter pushed himself more in other activities and in the classroom. By 9th grade, Nathan and I knew FFA was defining Hunter’s future career goals and direction. We’ve watched now for years as FFA developed his character and commitment.
As I sat at the State FFA convention I looked around to see there are many FFA advisors like Mr. Brown that inspire students to venture out of their comfort zones and push for new goals. There are FFA parents, alumni, supporters, businesses and more who all make up this huge network who are game changers in the lives of thousands of students.
FFA is not like a sport even though I call it a game changer. It’s a greater feeling that is beyond winning or losing, more than winning any championships. FFA stays with a person, forever. It’s why at the State FFA convention my husband can see scores of people he knows among the 1200 in attendance from his FFA years. People are loyal to FFA. They come back, donate their time, money and raise up a next generation in FFA.
If you don’t know FFA like I didn’t for many years, Google it. Read the FFA motto. Watch a video of a passion member recite the creed. And if you ever get a chance to attend an opening ceremony, you’ll hear the presiding president say, “FFA members, why are we here?” The members jubilantly and in unison reply, “To practice brotherhood, honor agricultural opportunities and responsibilities, and develop those qualities of leadership that a FFA member should possess.”
Thousands selflessly contribute to the brotherhood (and sisterhood) of FFA. Some of you have official titles and others do not. You each give of your time and skills to train up and prepare the qualities of leadership I personally have experienced FFA members possess.
FFA is a game changer because of the people who care about the impact it has on a next generation. Thank you to each of you. You are noticed. You are appreciated, even by the young members who may not tell you today. But when you’re 40 years old, like my husband, and see your former FFA advisor, still teaching and advising, at the State FFA convention, you can shake their hand and share your thanks. Mr. Vannett lit a fire under Nathan decades ago and attended his 45th connective State FFA convention when Nathan gave him a handshake of thanks.
This was originally published as my weekly Agweek column.