Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Ah Yes, Convention Stories!

One week at convention can have an incredible impact, and sometimes teach lessons that we miss every day.

It was Tuesday morning and an FFA member decided to buy granola bars for breakfast during the week of convention, so he sauntered through the pulsing streets towards CVS Pharmacy. The steam from the man hole covers blew sideways before dissipating in the brisk morning wind. The floodgate of blue jackets was about to burst into the streets of Indianapolis, but the 7 am commute of the city hurried on into the Tuesday work-world. Five lanes of cars flashed by in the dim and waxing light. Pedestrians in overcoats with heads down rushed to and fro.  Sometimes, just for kicks, the member tried to make eye contact with a stranger and see if he could coax a smile. Most people, on most mornings, take a keen interest in their shoes and would shuffle on faster. However he was wearing Official Dress this time, and something about the jacket made strangers respond to his nonverbal greetings. Today his smile and recognition of others spoke to their worth.

Tens of thousands of people stood and cheered after Jason Troendle spoke the last word of his retiring address. As quotes about what love was filled the background screen of the stage, something I didn't understand started to happen. The National FFA Secretary extended his pointer finger, pinkie, and thumb in an expression that looked like this.
I just let it go and kept cheering as dozens, then hundreds of students on the delegate floor, then in the stands responded likewise. I still didn't understand it, but figured in the grand scheme of convention it wouldn't matter. Oh well, whatever. Later that week, as I was walking across the plush hotel lobby towards a glistening elevator (and sleep) I happened to see Jason. A tie bracelet with blue and white woven into the worn ornament added a personable air to the business-like suit he sported. In the ensuing conversation, I thought back to to the session and asked what the symbol meant. As he shaped his hands he said "This means I love you in sign language".

Erin Daninger, my sister, was the National Officer Candidate for Minnesota. As the names of the new National Officers were announced one by one on Saturday, hers was not among them. As tears and hugs were exchanged after the lights flickered on, a group of girls formed around her. They put their arms around each other's shoulders and started to sing to my sister. These were my sister's Beta of Clovia sorority sisters, and though I didn't know what exactly they were singing, I knew that, at that moment, those lyrics meant more to my disappointed sister than I could ever express in this blog. 

Walking through the streets of Indy. A sign language word. A song. None of these would seem that important, but really they are all that is important. They all say "you are important to me", "I value you", "I love you". And love is all that matters. In the words of Maya Angelou “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Leadership, sometimes, is less about being able to give an inspirational speech, delivering a fantastic workshop, or running a meeting effectively. The most important influence has to do with loving others. As the writer of Corinthians once  said "If I... have not love, I am nothing". Anyone can do the three things in the stories above; loving others can really be as simple as a smile, a symbol, or a song. These things we can do each day speak to one point:

To make a difference in the world, Love out Loud.

Dare to Love.
Dare to Do.

Stationed by the Emblem of Washington,
Nathan Daninger

Saturday, October 20, 2012

What Have You Dared to Do?

Can someone remind me of this year's MN FFA state theme again?  Oh yeah!  That's right!  How could I have forgotten...


That is exactly what agricultural education students and community members from Fairmont, MN promised to do as they left the Agriculture Department's first FFA meeting and fun, informational night.  Students enjoyed workshops from past and present state officers while the parents and community members got to learn how they can help Fairmont FFA and its agriculture program succeed. 

It was great to see all of these people being supportive of and excited about FFA, but there was one student in particular that stood out to me and her name was Lydia.  Why did she stand out?  Because she is home-schooled.  Along with the fact that she maybe stepped out of her comfort zone to see what else this world has to offer her.  The fact that she was willing try something new.  The fact that she took my challenge.  Soon after she checked in at the event I got talking to her about FFA.  I told her about all of the opportunities to develop leadership and career skills, make life-long friends from across the state, as well as prepare yourself for your future and have fun at the same time!  And her response was, 

"It all sounds so good, I just wish there was a way to make it work." 

I quickly let her know that there was a way to make it work, you just have to push yourself a little bit, DARE TO DO something a little more.  I let her know that she needs to try it now because you don't want to look back later and wish you had done it.  

A few days later I got a message from Lydia on Facebook...  SHE GAVE IT A TRY!  She checked more into how to be involved and truly DARED TO DO.

Now I think we all need to be a little more like Lydia.  Not just within FFA when it comes to developing our SAE, being on a CDE team, or going to camps and conventions, but in life in general.  Whenever we are thinking about what to do next in life, we need to push ourselves past the limits we set on ourselves and exceed expectations.

Be more.
Do more.
Try something new.
Be INVOLVED, not just a member.
And push yourself to...

Stationed by the Ear of Corn,

Monday, October 15, 2012

CAUTION: Floor Slippery When Wet

Lunch ladies and custodians are some of the happiest people I know. If you ever want a great conversation, find a smiling keeper of the keys and start chatting. One custodian in particular I see at the residence hall where I live has a truly exceptional attitude. Let's call him Jim. When Jim sees me shuffling down the hall he gives out a "Howdy partner!" We might chat for a while or it might be a passing conversation, but the end of our conversations almost always goes the same. I will tell him to "Have a (great/good/phenomenal/insert adjective) day", and he will say "Oh I'm making it!" and gives a deep-throated chuckle.

"Oh I'm making it".

How often do we (I'm convicted of this one too) let our day make us instead of us making our day? There are only a few things in life we can always choose. We cannot always decide our living situation, income, talents, or health, but we can control our faith, attitudes, and beliefs. I would argue what we can control is much more important that what is outside of our reach. Jim has a great day almost everyday, not because he makes millions of dollars or has the best job (although he does get to post those nifty floor-slippery-when-wet signs), but because he chooses to live in joy. As Dale Carnegie puts it: "Happiness doesn't depend on any external conditions, it is governed by our mental attitude." Attitude is a choice.

What will you choose today? Every morning when you wake up there is an option. Are you going to decide to reflect joy, or are you going to let what happens to you  change what happens in you? Remember, as Zig Ziglar  said" Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude".

Choose to soar today.

From the Emblem of Washington,
Nathan Daninger

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

National Officer Candidate Training

Nation Officer Candidate Training
                When I arrived at Dassel-Cokato High School early in the morning on October 6, I was shocked to see that apart from Mr. Sawatzke, the FFA Advisor, I was the only one there! He gave me a run-down of what was going on that day and gave me a short tour of the surrounding rooms that we would be using. By the time we had completed that members began to flow in and I was able to see some members that I hadn’t seen in quite a while such as Linsey Strolberg, and Steven Johnson that I haven’t seen since summer leadership camps. We got to work preparing for the day as the National Officer Candidates from seven different states arrived ready for a day of training. It was educational for me to sit through the different rounds of interviews that these members took part in, but more than anything it gave me confidence in the future of the National FFA Organizations. These seven individuals took of their own time to train for this position of service. Service, has become a way of life for these men and women. And come October, I know that no matter who ends up standing on that stage, the National FFA Organization will be in good hands! To bring an end to what was certainly a fun and educational day, we had some good old fashioned dancing! Everything from the Jasper leading us in the Dougie, to country swing and line dancing!
Stationed by the Flag,

Jared Luhman

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Region VI Greenhand/ Chapter Officer Workshop Day

            ~ Grab Opportunity by the Hair ~
            Each day we are faced with hundreds of decisions.  What to eat for breakfast, which shirt to wear, what to put for number 6 on the math quiz, and more.  Some of these decisions are small and some are much bigger.  For instance, one decision that all FFA members are faced with whether or not to get involved in this organization.  Since we made that decision, we’ve been faced with so many more: which Career Development Event to involve ourselves in, if any. Whether or not to run for office, or what our Supervised Agricultural Experience should be. It is in the moments when we are faced with decisions that we are faced with opportunities.

            Over 400 FFA members and officers descended on Mountain Lake in Minnesota for the Region VI Greenhand/ Chapter Officer Workshop Day on September 26, 2012.  Over 350 of these members were Greenhands and this was their first event outside of their chapters.  The other members were Chapter Officers, who were there for the Chapter Officer Workshop also known as COW.  The Region Officer team was really focusing on encouraging these members to “seize the day” and to take advantage of the opportunities they would be exposed to throughout the day.

            When I heard what they were focusing on for the day, I was reminded of the Opportunity Statue from Ancient Greece.  The statue shows the figure of a man who has long flowing hair on his face and the front of his head, but the back of his head is completely bald.  The idea was that while Opportunity is walking towards you, you can reach out and grab a hold of it. However, once it has passed you by, there isn’t anything left for you to grab.  As I shared this story with the members there that day, I dared them to continually remember to “grab Opportunity by the hair”. 

            Throughout the day it was obvious that they were taking this dare seriously.  In the COW, the Chapter Officers stepped up and worked hard to develop skills that they will use throughout their year of service.  They thought about and discussed ways to accomplish their goals for their chapter, strategies they could use to keep each other accountable, and participated in activities which strengthened their teamwork skills.
While Shawna and I were working with the Chapter Officers, the Region VI Officers were facilitating workshops for the Greenhands.   These officers covered topics such as Basic FFA Knowledge, Casual Official Dress and Official Dress, Career Development Events, and Leadership Opportunities.  The Greenhands reached out and grabbed Opportunity by the hair through the excitement they displayed when offered a chance to experience some of the CDEs. They also learned many new things and gained helpful skills for their future.
            Later when Shawna gave her reflections of the day, I could tell that many of the FFA members had taken a hold of the biggest opportunity available to FFA members, the opportunity to be a part of the accepting atmosphere of FFA.  This was evident by the way they genuinely laughed during the funny parts of Shawna’s stories. Instead of the tension I had felt at the beginning of the day, these students had grown comfortable enough to express their inner emotions. These members had figured out that FFA was a place where they could really open themselves up and be themselves.

            The over 400 FFA members at the Region IV Greenhand/Chapter Officer Workshop Day dared to grab Opportunity by the hair, will you?
                                                                                                                 Stationed by the Plow,
                                                                                                                   Marjorie Schleper

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Tell Your Story

 Recently I came across a story titled "The Danger of Dihydrogen Monoxide". For those of you that laugh at the title, you may already know what Dihydrogen Monoxide is. Or you've already read the article. For those of you that are still confused, let me explain. A woman recently posted a YouTube video asking people to sign a petition to ban a chemical compound called Dihydrogen Monoxide. What the lady didn't explain however was that this "chemical compound" is actually water. This petition went on to get hundreds of signatures. All of which came from individuals who didn't ask any questions. Through this experiment we can see that by minor alterations and the addition of urgency in your message, we can get people behind us.

As I read this article I thought about how important it is to tell our story as agriculturists. On September 21st the Minnesota State FFA Officers visited Farm Bureau. We had the opportunity to meet with some executives from Farm Bureau as well as agricultural communicators from agricultural businesses from across Minnesota. While there, we did just that. Mrs. Kristin Harner (Public Relation Director) and Mr. Kevin Paap (Farm Bureau President) spent the morning sharing with us the importance of telling our story and also letting us practice answering commonly asked questions. Mr. Paap shared a quote with us that day that still rings true. The quote was,

"If you're not at the table, you'll be on the menu."

This couldn't be more true in our role as agriculturists. We must do our part in engaging the public in conversation about agriculture and the issues we are currently facing within it. The "FFA Day at the Capitol" is a perfect way to engage legislators in conversation and persuade their opinion but there are many other opportunities as well. School board meetings, school assemblies, newspaper articles, blog posts, Facebook, Twitter, and even YouTube are all great resources we can use to Tell our Story! After all, if we don't tell our story, somebody else will.

Stationed By the Rising Sun,

Shawna Conrad
MN FFA President

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Harvest: Soybeans and Gratitude

While driving down Highway 169 to the Maple River FFA Chapter Friday and down Highway 12 to the Benson FFA Chapter Monday, I snaked through miles and miles of countryside. Corn fields rolled into the horizon before being swallowed by combines. The trees along the river exploded into magnificent hues of red and yellow. Along with standing in awe and gratitude for the fantastic scenery and thinking about the visits I was making, it hit me how blessed we are to be plugged into the most important industry in the world.

Agriculture is the backbone of all careers. As agriculturalists we have the opportunity to determine what the next generation of agriculture will look like. There are gargantuan challenges to face like population growth, hunger, and water scarcity just to name a few. But we also have a tremendous opportunity. We have the potential to leave a mark and leave our world better than we found it. This is something to be thankful for, and as I watched the combines harvesting beans along the Minnesota river, I stood in awe of American agriculture.

"Ok" you might be thinking, "but what does this have to do with me? I'm not going to stop world hunger or anything like that." Granted, not everyone is going to (or should) work on solving world hunger, but I know in some Benson agriculture classes there are students who want to be farmers. For some feeding the world has to do with bringing better farming practices to the developing world, but for others it means bringing in a bumper crop. When I visited Maple River, I saw Greenhand members exploring what FFA can do to develop their potential. Hopefully someday they will give back by being leaders in their own homes, communities, and the agricultural industry. I am thankful that sometimes the small acts can be incredibly important.

I am grateful. I am appreciative for the beauty of our fall countryside, hopeful for the the future of agriculture, but most of all blessed to be impacted by Minnesota's 9,500 FFA members. As you go through this autumn season remember to stop, look around, and say "thank you" to those who have made you what you are.

From the Emblem of Washington,
Nathan Daninger