It was this week 18 years ago that I zipped up my blue corduroy jacket for the first time, as I prepared to participate in our county level FFA Creed Contest. I remember standing in the bathroom of our small high school thinking I was not the least bit comfortable in those black nylons, I wasn’t 100% sure how that waterfall scarf was supposed to lay, and I didn’t know why my brand new jacket, fresh from a cardboard box, was so stiff. Little did I know that over the next six and a half years, that very uniform would become a second skin to me.
As time unfolded, I had many adventures in that FFA jacket. The contests, the conferences, the activities: they helped mold me into the person I am today. I shed many tears, both of joy and of disappointment, as I navigated my teenage years. I learned what it meant to set goals and to work harder than I ever imagined to achieve them, but I also learned what it meant when to no fault of my own, those goals just weren’t in the cards to be attained. I developed a true understanding what it means to be a leader, and I had the privilege of guiding other members to the same comprehension. I realized that personal achievements are fulfilling, but those accolades pale in comparison to the joy of seeing others reach their own ambitions.
Earlier this week, I set down at my desk to write thank you notes to two important individuals who were mentors during my time as a FFA member, and now, as an adult, who I still hold in the highest of regards. It was challenging to verbalize how much their influence meant to me and how eternally grateful I am still today for my involvement in the FFA. I was disheartened, thinking that “thank you,” just wasn’t enough. How could I ever repay them the time they invested in me as a FFA member?
Then, a lightbulb went off, and suddenly I understood what they knew all along: if FFA is successful, which I believe in my heart of hearts that it is, then the personal development lasts far longer than any blue jacket. How do I pay this forward? By my everyday actions. By serving in leadership roles in my state and community. By putting others above myself. By working tirelessly to promote American agriculture. By raising my own children to be productive members of our society. By never doubting the difference one person can make.
FFA Week is a time to reflect and to be grateful. Even almost two decades later, it’s easy to get caught up in the nostalgia and to feel a little saddened that such an important chapter of my life has closed. However, to quote the great philosopher, Dr. Seuss: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” May your memories of FFA be full laughter and tears, and may you never stop applying the lessons learned in the blue and gold.