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I was not a state officer (and that is why FFA is so great)

“When were you a state officer?”

That’s a common question I get when it comes to my time in the National FFA Organization. I take it as flattery that somebody thinks I have what it takes to have once been a leader in the state organization. The bar is high for the job and we see each year a new set of young people take on the roles with diligence and excitement.

Yes, I have gotten far because of FFA. It opened up opportunities for me (current job included), plus cemented life-long friendships through all the professional and personal development the organization advised.

Now before we go any farther, let’s understand that for many students, being a state FFA officer is viewed as the pinnacle of the FFA experience. You see your peers standing on stage talking to tens of thousands in the crowd, wearing the blue corduroy with pride and class, and being a leader for the premier agricultural youth organization in the world. It’s a pretty big deal.

A young Joel in FFA.

But here is what I tell people when they ask me about my state officer experience — I never was a state officer. I never got there, but FFA literally changed my life even though I never did anything in the upper echelon of the organization’s leadership.

A disclaimer: I do not mean to take anything away from the individuals involved in the upper levels of FFA. It is a worthwhile and amazing thing to do.

However, I found success in my local chapter that not only planted the seed for my future career, but also watered and nourished that idea into a well-formed aspiration.

Think about that! This organization of farm boys and girls, plus city kids alike, has the power to do great things in a young person through just their basic involvement.

What worthier a cause in this day and age than to teach purpose and work to a young person? Those in the age group that constitutes FFA members are a part of our society trying desperately to figure out who they are going to be and are crying out for somebody to show them the way.

FFA can help do that if given the chance — not only for members that have had encouragement in their home life, but also for those that have lacked said direction, something we are seeing more often.

We’re not just talking about an impact that lasts through until next week. If you let it, the memories and lessons of the organization reach far down the road.

This reminds me of a story from a few years back about a local man close to my parents’ age who sadly passed away. This man was never known as his county’s shining light or made the nightly news for some great innovation or challenging the system. He was a good, honest, hard-working soul that stood as a silent pillar of strength for his family and community.

At this man’s funeral his high school FFA jacket was draped across his coffin. The highest office this man attained was a seemingly minor role in his local chapter, yet it was among the moments that changed his life.

The FFA jacket that he chose as a representation of his existence can rise to be much more than some blue corduroy with yellow writing. Whether the lettering on the back says a school name, “Association” (meaning the person is a state officer), or left completely blank (meaning a national officer), it really doesn’t matter — what matters is the work, hands-on learning, and leadership developed while wearing the blue cords.

The FFA Creed puts into words what FFA members truly stand for. Yes, the motto and others say this in a more concise manner, but none, in my opinion, put it as eloquently as the Creed itself. The first words from each of its five paragraphs beautifully put into perspective what an FFA member should be:

• I believe in the future of agriculture…
• I believe that to live and work on a good farm, or to be engaged in other agriculture pursuits, is pleasant as well as challenging…
• I believe in leadership from ourselves and respect from others…
• I believe in less dependence on begging and more power in bargaining…
• I believe that American agriculture can and will hold true to the best traditions of our national life…

(It’s really not fair to not include the other fantastic words from the Creed, so I encourage you to check it out at this link. Beautiful stuff.)

Myself? I did try to be a state FFA officer going into my senior year. I was chapter president and I really enjoyed working with my peers to get things done. But it just wasn’t in the cards for me that year to be in the state leadership. Sure, it was disappointing at first, but holy cow I’m glad it happened. I decided not to try again the next year and as I look back, that decision to focus on the local FFA experience (and other school projects) was a gift from God. He works in mysterious ways, but hey, that’s a whole different conversation. It allowed me moments of growth, challenges of decision making, and timeless memories that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

As a result, I find great peace in thinking of the organization’s potential impact on not just the outgoing, charismatic young person that’s out to do great things — which we see up on stage. Yes, they can excel — but what about that quiet, unassuming farm boy who has a passion in his heart to care for God’s creation? What about the young person with a learning disability who might not be great on paper in a classroom, but can out-think and out-plan anybody when it comes to soil surveys and shop work? Several of my classmates and family members fit this description. They may have never shined on a test or won a public speaking contest, but they found real success in the organization that gave them confidence and courage for a life well lived.

I am not some great educator, but I would challenge those in charge of young people to remember this. We are not all built for public-facing roles and success — true life success — isn’t always defined by rank or file. Heck, even in my own family I am the outlier for enjoying to talk in front of strangers — most would rather do their own thing and continue on. Guess what? FFA continues to allow these people to find success in a humble, quiet way, as well as those who aspire to more public-facing roles.

FFA offers opportunities to grow for all their members. It happened for me.

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3 comments

  1. Great Story Joel!

    I did have the honor to serve and it was life changing but had I not had that opportunity my time in FFA would have been amazing just the same.

    My home school discontinued FFA the year I was born but fortunately Tri-Rivers JVS opened my Junior year. I knew I had to work fast to catch up and I did. Star Greenhand as a Junior was different but I was proud. My senior year things really kicked into high gear.

    My first three months were spent on a farm in Sweden as part of the FFA Work Experience Abroad program. Home for Christmas and back to work as Chapter President then State Vice President followed up as President of the Ohio State Jr. Fair Board. 4 incredible years all thanks to the FFA.

    What amazes me more though is need I continue to feel to pay back those experiences. Thirty years as a volunteer firemen, various fair committee’s, 16 years on two different fair boards and the list goes on.

    The most profound thing I ever heard said out loud is that “the world is run by those who show up” and every single day FFA members show up!

    May the FFA train tomorrow’s leader forever and happy FFA Week!!!

  2. Very informative post, your post unique. Thanks for sharing.

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