Going back to visit my high school over Christmas break, feelings and memories came rushing back. Let me take you back with me…
Freshman year was filled with nervousness and new opportunities while I tried to maintain what I enjoyed most. My time after school was spent in the barn in the fall helping family prepare for our annual sale, the gym in the winter playing basketball, and in the shotput and discus rings in the spring. School remained pretty easy for me and I started to discover what FFA truly had to offer me as I competed in the Creed event. I considered myself to be pretty normal, doing normal “freshman student” things and staying busy. I loved school, the friends I had, and the activities I was involved in. Mentors told me I should check into attending a Minnesota FFA summer conference, so I signed up for the State Leadership Conference for Chapter Leaders (not knowing at the time I was probably supposed to be at the State Greenhand Leadership Conference(SGLC)). At this conference, I met some of my closest friends to this day. Here, I was inspired by Valerie Earley’s words and actions and decided there and then, some day I was going to be just like Valerie.
Cross-dressing as a male in Litchfield High School Theatre’s fall production of “Singin’ in the Rain” was my first (and only) experience on the stage and start of my sophomore year. Theatre was something I always wanted to try, and I am glad I did when I did. I began to become more aware of the other opportunities FFA had for me and started doing more with FFA; meanwhile, I saw myself pulling away from my athletics and certain friends. Fast forward to mid-sophomore year when I made the decision to run for Region V office, thanks to the advice of some FFA advisors and mentors. Blessed with the opportunity to serve Region V, I knew my high school experience was about to become much different than my classmates - especially because at the time, many students didn’t even know we had an FFA chapter in our school.
Junior year brought challenging classes as half of my schedule were CIS (College in the School) classes and a balancing act as I started to become active with Minnesota FFA on the state level with experiences like APEx (which I highly recommend!), Region V leadership conferences, and creating an Ag in the Classroom program in Litchfield. While my friends were hanging out on the weekends and starting to be in “relationships,” I felt a bit lost. I found myself struggling to keep up with the schedule I had created for myself - including a social life, which was practically non-existent at this point. I started questioning my decision of committing myself to FFA. While I LOVED who I was and what I was doing at FFA events, as soon as I got back to school, I struggled. I started asking myself, Why did you decide to do this to yourself? You are about the furthest from a normal student ever. You have few close friends at school. All you do is study and go to FFA events. Suddenly, I didn’t love school anymore and wished I lived in about six different towns around the state of Minnesota to be closer to my FFA friends. When it came time to decide if I wanted to re-run for Region office, I knew this was my opportunity to spread my wings even more in FFA around the state and even around the country, or I could drop everything I knew. I ran for Region President, and with the support of many family, friends, mentors, and advisors was blessed to serve Region V and immersed myself even deeper into FFA.
The summer between my junior and senior year in high school, I spent almost four straight weeks with FFA for region officer trainings (ROLO and POWER), Washington Leadership Conference, and SGLC. I then spent five days with Minnesota FFA in the Miracle of Birth Center’s Chapter House and Leadership Center during the State Fair - and I loved every second of it. I knew I made the right decision and felt as though I was officially in the right place at the right time with the right people. I was finally excited for my future in agriculture. I mended some of the friendships I had broken during sophomore year and started senior year re-energized.
Senior year brought many absences from school (I think I could count the number of full weeks I went to school on two hands), a passion, and a purpose. My involvement increased in FFA even more and my schedule again began to pile up. Between Ag in the Classroom, serving as a National Convention delegate, going to Alabama through a chapter exchange program, and losing a close FFA friend from Texas, by Christmas break, I was so overwhelmed with school work, scholarship applications, and my FFA responsibilities, I was once again feeling the slump. (Maybe like you are feeling now…) After attending Delaware's State FFA Convention, I was refocused and re-energized. My spring only got busier with speech competitions, scholarship and awards nights, graduation prep, and then State Office responsibilities.
FFA was not a popular thing to be a part of in my high school. In fact, my best friend Emma always told me, “There’s all those ‘ag’ kids that meet in the ag room each morning, and then there’s you. Why do you do it?” I would always tell her I was just an ag kid too, who happened to be in choir, tried out the musical, worked at home on the farm, showed livestock, played basketball for years, and was an honor roll student. I was no different than any of them; we all had many rings in the fire, just like you.
Oftentimes we get caught in the seemingly, never-ending cycle of school, sports, jobs, other activities like FFA or Student Council, and homework - and the mid-school year slump catches up with us. We might feel lost and out of place or simply overwhelmed with the amount of responsibility we have put upon ourselves (or feel others have put on us).
While FFA wasn’t the popular thing for me to do, I know I made the right decision for me. Each of us has to find what makes us happiest and makes us feel the most like us. It might not be the popular thing, but you will be happy - and that is what is most important. Going against the grain in high school was something I became very good at; I went from athlete to FFA and Speech nerd in less than two years. In the words of Andrea from RTR FFA, “No matter what anyone says or does, be you! You are perfectly imperfect and that’s what makes you unique in your own way. It can be hard to go against the crowd, but it’s so worth it! Honestly, if I didn’t start doing things I loved, I wouldn’t have pursued further into my FFA career and I wouldn’t have met the amazing people I now call my best friends. I also wouldn’t have been able to do the amazing things I have done. Everything good so far that has happened to me was because I chose to be my own person and pursue the things I loved! So just be you!”
Recently I went to the movie “The Greatest Showman” (if you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it!) and one of my favorite songs is titled, “This is Me.” My favorite part of the song is the chorus, so I’ll leave you with some lyrics that have recently hit me hard:
“When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me
Look out ‘cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me”
**(you can listen to the full song here: https://youtu.be/wEJd2RyGm8Q)
This year we have the opportunity to embrace our true selves and do what makes us happiest. Don’t let baggage and responsibilities weigh you down - no matter what, there is always tomorrow. Cling to the hope of a new day and enjoy life surrounded by those you love and love you.
Stationed by the ear of corn,