It was a long day; I left my home in Wooster at 7 a.m. and didn’t get home until after 10 p.m.
But it was a good day — time well spent with members and advisers of an organization that continues to do great things.
I wore the blue and gold jacket myself from 1998 to 2002, and the highlight was always state and national convention.
In high school, I got the rare opportunity to attend national convention as a freshman, which also was the last year it was held in Kansas City, Mo. It would become one of my best high school experiences. A group of us loaded vans and headed west — the furthest I had ever been.
We stopped at places like the Gateway Arch at St. Louis, the offices of the National FFA in Indiana, and several museums and historical places. As we got closer to Kansas City, it seemed like FFA members were everywhere — at gas stations, restaurants and in the vehicles beside us on the interstate. I had no idea there would be tens of thousands of us at the convention, and I was amazed to see so many blue and gold jackets.
And when the convention actually got underway, it was almost shocking, at least to a freshman. We were in a large arena, and everywhere I looked were thousands of FFA members — more than 40,000 from every state in the nation.
The thing I remember most was the pride of the members who received the American FFA Degree — the highest honor the program bestows. I wasn’t exactly sure what it was, or what it meant, but the ceremony and the recognition looked so nice, I decided I’d try to earn one myself. Five years later I did just that, and I found myself on the stage in front of thousands, receiving the top honor.
The state convention is much smaller — usually topping 6,000 total. But it’s still an impressive gathering of young people who come to celebrate their accomplishments in agriculture, and prepare the next generation of agriculturists.
The FFA has a legendary history, dating back to 1928. Many of its basic symbols like the jacket and the creed have been with the program all along. Its members study its history, memorizing important dates and achievements. And they learn to memorize and recite the creed — a well-crafted statement about advancing the future of American agriculture.
Nationally, FFA has more than a half-million members. They come from all 50 states and Puerto Rico.
A great cause
Their numbers are impressive, and their mission is noble: “Making a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education.”
And their motto is sound: “Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, Living to Serve.”
These things clearly were on the minds of the members of the 83rd Ohio convention, as they received hundreds of different awards for their hard work throughout the year. Whether it’s public speaking, job interviewing, livestock judging, raising some crops or anything in-between — this is a group of people that gets it done.
When I was in Washington, D.C. a few weeks ago, several of the legislators said agriculture will be key in leading us out of the recession and into a better day. I think the best is ahead of us, and it will come from people like those in the FFA.
The skills these students learn are practical, common sense-based and useful for day-to-day living. They study such things as record keeping, business plans, assets and liabilities and financial independence.
They know how to fix a tractor and stack hay, and they know hay from straw, and oats from wheat. Some of them continue on to college — completing two- or four-year degrees. And others return to the farm directly from the program.
But they all gain skills and talents that will serve them for a lifetime.
I can’t say enough good about FFA — not without turning this blog into a book. But it’s encouraging to observe the success of this program and what its members have done in 83 years.
A program that focuses on learning and doing, taking care of the land and the environment and serving other people is an asset to everyone. And FFA is certainly that.