Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Celebrate US and U.S.

Growing up, I always loved going to Forest Lake’s 4th of July Parade. Each year, I’d wake up early, go find a spot alongside the curb on Broadway Avenue with my friends and wait (im)patiently for the free tootsie rolls, pencils, and of course, all the free politician stickers because we thought they made us look official, even as 7-year-olds! Parades were a great time for fun, friendship and free food – three of my favorite things! But most importantly, the 4th of July Parade gives the honor and recognition our nation’s history and servicemen and servicewomen deserve. This is exactly why the 4th of July will always be one of my favorite holidays – it allowed me to celebrate our country and have a great time with my friends and family.

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in one of the coolest parades ever alongside 65,000 FFA members wearing the blue jacket – a parade of flags. I had the chance to carry the Minnesota State Flag down FFA Way during the Grand March and in one of the sessions at National FFA Convention. Carrying the flag and representing our state was a very powerful and uplifting experience for me. Through it, I gained insight on the unity of the FFA through having the chance to connect with members across the nation. I amplified my excitement for our state’s own members and took pride in our state’s accomplishments, just like my friends and I took pride in our nation and its rich history on the 4th of July each year. Taking pride in “The Land of 10,000 Lakes” and carrying our flag made me excited to be both an FFA member and a Minnesotan – taking pride in FFA members and the U.S. through this experience is something I will never forget.

Being proud and celebrating all of the amazing things we have been doing as FFA members is so important. Last week, our state officer team was so proud of all of the amazing things our members accomplished. I had the chance to talk with several members who gave it their all throughout the week in their interviews, the talent show, Career Development Events, band, chorus and through participating in activities all week. I want to highlight a few of these amazing people. To begin with, on Friday afternoon, I had the chance to catch up with Abby Stumpner, Izzy Forliti, Daniel Williamson and Darrin Williamson. These four fantastic FFA members from the AFSA and ACGC FFA Chapters gave it their all in their AgriScience Fair Competition. They had so much joy and pride in their projects; it was easy to tell through their genuine smiles and enthusiasm. In fact, when I talked with Izzy about her AgriScience Fair Project, which focused around plant science, she mentioned it was her own project that inspired her to become a plant geneticist someday. How cool is that?! Then, on Saturday, I had the pleasure of catching up with the Dassel-Cokato Chapter’s Milk Quality and Products team (see below)! Their hours of hard work and preparation led them to earn a silver rating at National Convention! The amount of knowledge they gained through this CDE and the bond they made as an FFA family are both irreplaceable. And of course, on Saturday, our very own Valerie Earley was elected to serve as the National FFA Central Region Vice President, and as a state, we got to celebrate her great accomplishment! This year, she is going to have an adventure of a lifetime and transform the lives of thousands of FFA members from sea to shining sea and we could not be any more excited and proud of her! It is so important that as FFA members, we celebrate US.

Sometimes, our world can seem like a scary place. On social media, we see a lot of distress and concern about the future. But how are we going to manage that and still take pride in our country? With Veterans’ Day coming up around the corner, I challenge you to think about something. Reflect on the rights and privileges you have as a citizen of the United States of America. For me, the right to vote, the right to place my faith in God and His Son, the right to an education and the privilege of going to bed each night knowing my friends and family are safe because of the selfless men and women serving our country is more than enough for me. Once you have thought of these, find a way to say thank you. Thank these brave men and women for all they do for you and for me. Send a care package or write cards to troops serving overseas. Or, when you see a veteran in public, say thank you, hold the door for them or write them a card. The options are limitless, but we should all find a way to show support for our nation’s brave servicemen and women and take pride in our nation. Celebrate the U.S.

We need to take time to celebrate our own accomplishments as well as celebrate the accomplishments and sacrifices of our great nation; celebrating US and celebrating the U.S., just like we do on the 4th of July. At FFA Convention, we were able to celebrate US through recognizing all of the hard work our members are doing day in and day out while still celebrating the U.S. through flag ceremonies, the Pledge of Allegiance and singing along to the talented national chorus’ Star Spangled Banner before all general sessions. The pride and joy we take in our nation and our organization allows us to come together with a common purpose. How will you celebrate US and celebrate U.S.?

Stationed by the Door,
Joe Ramstad

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Get Lost!

People often tease me about being from “Canada;” also known as Staples, Minnesota. I would like to point out right now that my hometown is geographically located in the center of the state. If you get anything out of this blog, let it be this: be proud of who you are and where you came from. Now I’ll be honest, that is not what my blog is about, nor is it close. I just believe it is a very important life hack to being the best you.

Staples is like many other small towns in Minnesota in the fact that our students love hunting, fishing and rebuilding big mud trucks. My particular group of friends were perhaps the professionals in all three areas. On a daily basis, we could be seen pulling into the last row of the parking lot after a successful morning hunt. As school, work and supper wrapped up, we would get in our trucks and head outside of town.

Once we hit the dirt roads, we often found ourselves lost among a long string of country trails. We took backroads by choice. Getting lost, however, was completely by chance. We never planned to lose our way, but the journey was often more successful when we were lost. One day in particular, we had no idea where we were at but realized we were surrounded by beautiful scenery. My friend Hayley and I jumped out of the vehicle and had one of the best conversations ever. At the time, it was much needed, and even though we were physically lost, I felt so found on the inside. Being lost by chance often results in some very necessary results.

In 1492, Christopher Columbus and his crew set sail from Spain in three ships: the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. Columbus assumed they would reach Asia, but in October they landed on one of the Bahamian islands. For months, Columbus sailed from island to island in what we now know as the Caribbean, looking for the many goods (such as gold and pearls) that he promised to return with. He didn’t find much of his promised goods but discovered a vast array of products we use on a daily basis (tomatoes, cotton, etc.). In March, Columbus returned to Spain and had full hopes of coming back.

Christopher Columbus set off on an adventure but had no idea how lost he would become. Instead of losing hope, however, they endured the journey and found what we now call as home: America. Sometimes being lost can reap some powerful discoveries, possibly even a home.

Today marks the beginning of the event more than 629,000 FFA members await: National FFA Convention. Convention presents limitless opportunities to make memories, take selfies and get lost! Keep in mind that you don’t have to physically be lost to reap the benefits that come from losing your way.

As a junior in high school, I attended my first National FFA Convention to compete in the Extemporaneous Speaking Career Development Event. I was comfortable with my speech, but a convention with more than 60,000 FFA members was not something I was ready for. I was quickly wrapped up in trying to navigate around Louisville, Kentucky. In fear that I would be abandoned or even kidnapped, I decided to stay put in the hotel I was competing in. As our chapter entered the Convention Center, our eyes glazed over at the sight of the endless colleges, businesses and vendors. The boys from my chapter wondered off on their own adventures, and I was left to either sit down and scroll through pictures I’ve seen a million times, or explore this place for myself. By the time we left, I had visited with every college in the Midwest. This was my first experience with South Dakota State University, which not coincidentally, is where I now attend college. Later that afternoon, my advisor suggested I stray off my path even further by attending a workshop focused on Agricultural Education. Here, I connected with Nathan McMullen, a South Dakota State University student who no longer had me lost, but found. Not only did I find a college that I loved from first glance, I was introduced to the Agricultural Education program by an experienced student. Today, I am a freshman at South Dakota State University majoring in Agricultural Education. People say it’s crazy how life works out, but it’s because I was willing (or forced) to lose my way, that I found exactly where I needed to be.

Sometimes all it takes to lose (and find!) your way, is trying something new that isn’t normally a part of your trail. Maybe this means meeting someone from a different state or introducing yourself to a past National FFA Officer. Be bold and attend a workshop on something you love, or have absolutely no knowledge of. Take time to scope out the booths of interest to you in the career fair. This is your convention! This is your opportunity to get lost. Who knows, maybe you’ll happen to find yourself all at the same time. Are you game?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

What Will You Choose?

Here at South Dakota State University, the entire freshman class is required to read a book of the university’s choosing. Along with the required reading, they put on what are called common read events. I decided or was rather convinced, by my friends to go to the event with them. They said it was a movie instead of a speaker so that helped persuade me to go until I sat down and saw the title of the movie, “Happy.” Based on the title, I wasn’t thinking very highly of the movie. However, after sitting through it, I was really glad I went. It had strong statistics I could believe, but more importantly, it had personal accounts from individuals who were very happy themselves. One stood out to me. It was the story of a man who was volunteering at Mother Teresa's Home for the Dying Destitute. He told of how he went from being a very successful businessman making a lot of money to where he is today. When most people are asked what will make them happy, they will usually respond with money. However, this man told how helping those in need made him happier than money ever could.

            While watching this movie, I had a flashback to my experience at the Washington Leadership Conference, or WLC, held in Washington, DC. This conference is based solely on how we as individuals can better serve our community. If you are even considering going, GO! This was literally one of the best weeks of my life. My group leader and the friends I made there gave me the confidence to say I was going to run for FFA State Office and play a role in who I am today. That conference does amazing things for everyone who attends. There I go rambling again, but what I was trying to say is one of my favorite experiences at that conference was actually the service project all of us attending performed. In under and hour, about 400 individuals attending the conference packed 63,288 meals for people living in the Washington D.C. area. We all helped pack a lot of meals in very little time, but it didn’t feel like work. It was actually a lot of fun because I had great people to talk to while working.
            I believe the reason more people aren’t happy is the reason more of us don’t do service projects because it is too hard. I know, it’s a crazy thing to say but happiness is actually primarily a choice. There is a great quote by Charles R. Swindoll, “I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.” Happiness is a choice we as individuals make every morning. It is as simple as a change in the way we think. We can think of all the things we have to do… or we can think of all the things we can do.  Today I chose to be happy about the things I get to do and will share that happiness by serving others. What will you choose?

Clay Newton

Stationed by the Emblem of Washington

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Love it or Learn from it

Earlier this year, my mentor, Chelsea, took me to one of her all time favorite restaurants. We arrived, and she told me I had to try one of her favorite dishes--a gyro. I’d never had a gyro before. I wondered: What if it tasted weird? What if I hated it--how embarrassing would that be? But, I ordered it and decided to give it a try.

Have you ever gone to a restaurant and ordered something you’ve never tried before? Then when your server brings you your meal, you stare at it for awhile and wonder how it will taste?

Many of us have been in this situation and we’ve learned: the only way to find out is to try it.

gyro-meat-sandwich-filling-wit-7d5253.jpgEventually, our food came, and staring up at me from my plate was steaming lamb meat, weird-looking pita bread, shredded lettuce, and some unfamiliar white sauce (which I later found out was cucumber sauce). Chelsea started eating and I watched with apprehension. She looked at me and said, “Oh come on! Just try it!”

I did and I loved it.

A lot of times in life, we’ll find ourselves in this situation. We’re nervous. We don’t want to try this new food, this new hobby, this new dance move, this new CDE, or this new leadership conference. What if we mess up? What if we look funny? What if someone laughs at us?

But what if we love it?

That first step to try a new thing can be scary, and I truly felt those nerves a few months ago.  During the State Fair, after a long day working in the Chapter Leadership House and at the FFA Goat Show, I was enjoying some watermelon with some of the volunteers from the Minnesota Pork Booth. One of the volunteers, Maddie, asked me how the first couple days of being a college student were. I told her it was a weird new experience, living with a roommate was definitely a change, and I was nervous for classes to start. She laughed and said, “That’s normal. You’ll either love it, or you’ll learn from it.”

IMG_4716.JPGHer statement reminded me of another time when I was trying a new experience. My parents have always loved gardening. My sister, Amanda, loves gardening. I don’t love gardening -- or at least I didn’t growing up. Mom and Dad always asked Amanda and I to help in the garden, whether it be planting, weeding, harvesting, or preparing our produce to sell on the Bauman Blvd Produce Stand or at the Kerkhoven Farmer’s Market. Every time they’d ask, Amanda would reply with an eager, “Of course!” I would grumble for a little bit and eventually make my way to the garden, where everyone else was hard at work.

When I entered 9th grade, working in the garden became my SAE. I still didn’t enjoy gardening, but Amanda loved it. I figured I would eventually grow into it like she did. It never happened. I began volunteering at the local animal shelter and developed the experiences into another part of my SAE. I still continued gardening as an SAE, but I had found a path I could call my own and that I enjoyed from the very beginning.

After one summer of volunteering at the animal shelter, I began to appreciate working in the garden more. My perspective had changed. Instead of doing chores I thought were pointless, I was helping my family do something really cool. I realized we were a part of the larger agricultural community, and our farm story is one of many other unique stories to share.

It took taking a step back for me to realize that although I had always been doing an activity I never loved, there was much to be learned from it. That night at the State Fair, I was nervous for school to begin and to continue being away from home. Now, one month in, I learned from all of the “scary” experiences I have had so far, and I am loving every second of it. Opportunities are going to knock all throughout our lives, and we have a choice to accept them or let them pass. Not every opportunity will work out the way we anticipate, but we can choose to love it or to learn from it. Eventually, we will find our own paths and discover how we can love our experiences and learn from them too.  

What is one thing you are nervous about trying? What have you learned from your past experiences? How will you “love it or learn from it” this year?

Stationed by the ear of corn,