It was a cool, crisp fall afternoon during my freshman year of high school right after region greenhand day, and I was pumped to kickstart my time as an FFA member. That afternoon, my agriculture teacher, Mrs. Tauzell, pulled me aside and told me about an opportunity to earn my very own blue corduroy jacket. I knew I wanted to be involved in FFA, and once I had seen all of the cool region officers sporting their own jackets at greenhand day, I realized I wanted one of my own. I immediately took the application for our state’s incredible “Blue Jackets, Bright Futures” Program, ran home and started filling it out. Within a couple days, I read over what I had written down, typed it up, mailed it in and waited for what felt like an eternity… I was on my way to potentially earning my own jacket and I couldn’t be more excited!
About a month later, Mrs. T asked to chat with me after class - I thought I was going to be in trouble or something! But to my surprise, she said “Congratulations Joe! You earned your very own blue jacket! I’m going to order it tonight and it’ll be here before you compete in Creed!” In that moment, I was as happy as a clam. I was about to get a jacket with my name on it - what more could little ninth grade Joe ask for? I was so grateful for my advisor for telling me about the program and for the individual sponsors working with the Minnesota State FFA Foundation for sponsoring the jacket, and I still am to this day.
My brand new, crispy blue jacket arrived just one week later, and I was stoked. After school, I anxiously opened up the box like a little kid on Christmas Day and to my surprise, something seemed a little odd at a first glance. I looked at the name sewn into my new jacket, looked at Mrs. T, then looked back down at the name again. “Hey Mrs. T,” I muttered, “I don’t think my name is spelt right…”
She took a look at the new jacket and said, “No, it’s gotta be right! Sometimes the cursive is just a bit hard to read! Let’s see… J-O-E R-A-M-S-T-... wait…” She soon realized I was right, my name had been sewn in as Joe Ramsted rather than Joe Ramstad. The smiles and enthusiasm we had shared moments ago as the package was opened soon transformed into looks of slight despair and confusion. She assured me that we could send it back or have it resewn at National Convention, but I didn’t want that - my jacket was perfect just the way it was because it was special to me. I decided to keep it as is. Looking back now, I am so glad that I left my jacket the way it was. But why?
My first jacket taught me that as FFA members, our jackets don’t have the power to define us, but rather, we have the power to define our jackets. No matter if we have our very own jacket or if we are borrowing a sibling’s jacket, a friend’s jacket, or in some cases, even one of our parent’s jackets, the name, title or honors sewn on those jackets do not define us - we must define and give purpose to our jackets through our thoughts and actions. When we give purpose to our jackets, we are able to make a difference in the world. FFA is not about the titles, awards, honors or even the name that may be stitched into our jacket; it is about nurturing growth in each and every member, and this growth cannot be measured on an officer application or on a resume. Rather, it is measured in our hearts.
How will you define your jacket? This is a pretty heavy question, but it is one we each need to take time to think about. Whether this upcoming state convention will be your first or your last, think about how you are going to define your jacket. Will the pride you have as you hang up your blue jacket come from the awards you have earned or will this pride come from the lifelong skills you have learned? Will this pride be defined based on what office you attain or will it be a product of the relationships you have built through demonstrating authentic leadership? Will this pride be instilled in you from the milestones you have reached in the jacket or instilled from the milestones you have helped your fellow members achieve?
We each have the opportunity to define our FFA journeys and our blue jackets. Before I hang up my blue jacket in a couple of weeks, I want to say how grateful I am for the constant support, encouragement and love FFA members like yourselves have given me throughout my FFA journey from the moment I zipped up my “Joe Ramsted” FFA jacket back in 2011. Whatever may or may not be sewn on our jackets should not be what defines our FFA experience because I know that they were far from defining mine.
For the Final Time - Stationed by the Door,