Oh, man. Let me tell you, I get pretty excited about holidays.
I seriously LOVE Christmas (no kidding, I will watch White Christmas and Holiday Inn every other day for a month leading up to Christmas) and New Years because it means some extra time to relax and be around friends and family.
And, I love Valentine’s Day, too, because it gives my husband and I an excuse to spend a little extra money and go out on a date.
But, I really love February for another “holiday” – National FFA Week!
I have so many wonderful memories of my time in FFA, beginning with my very first Career Development Event (CDE) to my time as an Illinois State FFA Officer – which is pretty impressive for a kid that had no plans of taking an ag class or joining FFA.
You see, when the National FFA Organization allowed women to join the organization in 1969, my mom was about two years away from being a freshman in high school, making her one of the first women to join the Clinton FFA Chapter. Her dad and uncles had been members, too, so when it was time for me to walk the freshman halls of CHS, she wanted to extend the family tradition.
The only problem was, I didn’t. When I was signing up for my first semester of classes freshman year, mom sat at the kitchen table with me and pointed to Introduction to Agriculture and said, “Take that one.”
I politely (or, maybe not so politely – I was a teenager after all) responded with “Um, no way. That is definitely not a cool thing to do.”
But, because my mom was, well, my mom, she won that war and I found myself all signed up for Intro to Ag. However, when I got to school the following fall, I found out that Intro to Ag had been replaced with another elective of my choice because there weren’t enough kids to fill the class.
Whew. Dodged a bullet there.
Only, I didn’t actually dodge a bullet. Because my mom was savvy enough to know that I could still do my record books for partial class credit and that would allow me also to become a member of the FFA chapter, I was still going to become a card-carrying member.
So, I began working on my record books and practicing for CDEs with Mr. Prather (only the coolest retired ag teacher EVER – and any Clinton FFA member will back me up on that one). It wasn’t long before I found out that my mom had been right and I, as usual, had been wrong.
FFA was cool.
I quickly found out that my favorite CDEs were public speaking and dairy products (not to toot my own horn, but I won the contest two or three years straight. When my sister got to high school, she carried on the tradition and picked up where I left off, winning it herself several times). I also enjoyed horse judging, dairy judging, the soils contest and meats judging. And, I took tremendous pride in my Supervised Agriculture Experience – or record books – competing at the section, district and state proficiency contests.
But, more than anything, I really enjoyed the people I met. To this day, I’ve met some of my very best friends in FFA.
I spent a whole lot of time getting to know the kids in my chapter (and still hang out with them in many cases) at 8th grade orientation day, or setting up for the FFA Petting Zoo and working during our teacher appreciation breakfast during FFA week.
My good friend, Kirk Builta, ended up being my teammate on section and state officer teams and later became my roommate in college and an usher at my wedding. In fact, another section president, Kristina Grebner, lived in the same sorority I did and read at my wedding. And, my good friend, DeAnna Thomas, was an Illinois FFA member who timidly introduced herself to me while I was state officer. Coincidentally, she overcame any shyness she had to become a farm broadcaster at WMBD in Peoria.
Another friend from Section 16, Amanda Hayes, helped me survive my senior year (in a way only she and I will ever be able to understand), and I found 25 of my very best friends while serving on the State FFA Officer team as a Section President. I also found out that they do, in fact, have a southern accent and say, on a regular basis, “Bless Your Heart!” in deep southern Illinois - don’t they, Melissa Bramlet?
If that wasn’t enough, I finally found the four big brothers I never had growing up when I was elected a major state officer. To this day, the boys and I still try to get together once a year, just to have fun.
The point is, FFA is more than just a class elective. It’s an important part of school’s curriculum, teaching kids the importance of hard work, committment, persistence and leadership. In my case, FFA helped to direct me to my future career path.
So, I guess, you could say I’m indebted to FFA. It shaped me into the person I am today. It made me stronger. It made me a leader. And, it helped to bring out my passion for agriculture. I wouldn’t be who I am today without FFA.
There are more than 540,300 FFA members celebrating National FFA Week this week who would probably say the very same thing. In fact, to see what today’s FFA members are saying about FFA and what it’s done for them, stop by http://www.youtube.com/ilfarmbureauyouthed to check out IFB’s Youth Education in Agriculture Ag Career Video Contest viewers’ choice picks. They’re pretty cool, too.
In a nutshell, FFA is pretty cool for shaping today’s youth into tomorrow’s leaders. So, thanks FFA, for being, well, cool!