Wednesday, March 29, 2017

What is right for you?

From day one we are asked, “So what do you want to be when you grow up?” Many of us probably had similar answers: firefighter, police officer, or, my response, a football player. I wish I could follow through with what I said when I was five, but sadly I can’t. Then early in high school, the question changes to, “What college are you going to?” Most people answer that question with a four-year university or “I don’t know.”

Mike Rowe, most known from his show Dirty Jobs, has a very interesting view on the college decision high schoolers make. He is a big advocate for trade school and the jobs they provide, which are typically looked down upon by filmmakers and sometimes even high schools. Mike Rowe talked about how most people employed in trade areas are depicted in movies as overweight, unintelligent, and lazy. Anyone who has watched Dirty Jobs, which I have a lot, has seen the people in those positions are hard working people who just prefer to work with their hands. He also shares how there isn’t actually a job shortage, there is a labor shortage. Most people are being overqualified for the actual jobs being created. If you go on Facebook or YouTube, you can find videos where Mike Rowe is advocating for some form of higher education. In his words, “without higher education, you are doomed. However, don’t mistake a higher education for a four-year university.”

I am not saying that four-year universities are the wrong choice. I love attending and getting my education from South Dakota State University. However, I believe that too many people are choosing four-year schools with no idea for a future career path because “it’s what everyone else is doing.” Community colleges are a great way to get your general education classes at a much lower cost and gives you the opportunity to find out what you want to do for a future career. However, most importantly, you have to find the form of higher education that is right for you. That can be an apprenticeship, community/technical college, or university. The form that is right for me is a university. What is right for you?

For the final time, Stationed by the Emblem of Washington,

Clay Newton
Minnesota FFA State Treasurer

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


In my high school English class, I was taught to never use the word “good” when writing a paper. During long hours of basketball practice, my teammates and I decided to never settle for “good enough.” When I competed in the instrumental solo/ensemble contest, I knew that receiving a score of “good” meant I had a long way to go before I could earn the coveted score of Superior. It was quite simple. Being good meant I could still become greater. But what happens when instead of striving to BE good, we strive to DO good?

When it comes to being “good,” each of us strive to be not just good, but great, at different things. Great at sports, great at school, great at singing, great at public speaking, and so much more. It’s not wrong to desire to be good at these things, but we spend time focusing on ourselves. When we strive to DO good, we are focusing on others.


When my teammates and I traveled to AgStar this past fall for a State Officer Professional Development Day, we met several leaders of the company and learned about the AgStar’s partnership with FFA. One individual who sticks out in my mind even today is Tim McNamara. Tim served as 1974-1975 Minnesota FFA Secretary and is now the Associate Vice President of Capital Markets at AgStar Financial Services. He and his colleague, Rod Hebrink, 1975-1976 Minnesota FFA President and current CEO and President of AgStar, shared with us many memories from their time as FFA members and gave advice on how we can continue to grow and become leaders of the agriculture industry. At the end of the day, Tim said “Go forth, do good.” At the time, I thought, “Wow, what fitting advice for my year of service as a state officer.” But now, I think “Wow! What fitting advice for life.”

Why would we choose to do good? What difference is it going to make? The answer: all the difference in the world.

norm.jpgIf Nelson Mandela had not chosen to “do good,” the anti-apartheid movement may not have been resolved and segregation would still exist. If Susan B. Anthony had not chosen to “do good,” women may not have been able to vote until significantly later in history. If Norman Borlaug had not chosen to “do good,” billions of people would have died of starvation.

When we choose to do good, the world will not be changed overnight. However, small acts begin to add up, and before we realize, someone’s life will be impacted. When we act as a positive influence in someone’s life, we are fulfilling the last line of the FFA Motto, “Living to Serve.” Alone, you and I can do so little. But together, we can do so much. We can choose to be All In and be the difference-makers of our generation. One act of kindness at a time and soon, the world will be filled with the love we have given. Let’s commit to choosing to DO GOOD.

It has been the greatest honor to serve Minnesota FFA this year. When I take my jacket off for the final time, I will not forget the lessons I have learned and the people I have loved, but rather, will continue to be right alongside each of you, loving and serving others.

Go forth, do good.

For the final time,

Stationed by the ear of corn,


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Shine Brightly

10 months ago today, my team was learning and growing at the Blast-Off conference as we started our year of service. I remember the excitement and nervousness I felt as my team awkwardly got to know each other. We cried while trying to learn how to write speeches with the dreaded Magic Formula and laughed as we took a whole bunch of clothespins and put them on Joe. Our weekend started off on Friday though, and one of the first things we did was pick a quote that resonated with us. As we did a gallery walk to admire the many quotes on the wall, one stuck out to me in particular. This quote by Nelson Mandela is, “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

I have come to realize the extreme importance this quote has had on my life. As I’ve traveled the world this year and met the most amazing people, I have seen the light they have shone on me and the others around me. Whether it be FFA members, agricultural industry leaders or Agriculture teachers, the people that shine their light somehow inspire others to do the same. The question is, what does it really mean to shine your light?

I’ve seen so many examples of people shining their light, but I came to realize exactly what it meant less than a month ago when my team visited the Commissioner of Education, Brenda Cassellius. Our team had the opportunity to visit with her during FFA Week, and we couldn’t wait to share the story of agricultural education and FFA with her. As we walked into her office, I began to get butterflies in my stomach—this lady has an important role and I knew it. We sat down and began to share about graduation rates of agricultural education students, the opportunities within FFA and the unique learning experiences that happen with hands-on learning in agriculture classes. All the while, Commissioner Cassellius sat intently listening to what each one of us had to say. Throughout our conversation, she would ask questions or make comments to show her interest in what we were doing.

But through all of this, my favorite part of this visit was hearing Commissioner Cassellius story and her passion for making sure all students get an education. She shared about her childhood and how public education and the teachers in it saved her. Her passion for students radiated from the words she spoke, and I saw the absolute love she has for children. On her office door reads, “Measure everything in child benefit.” This is what it means to shine your light. It is when you are willing to give more than you have to do what you are passionate about. Shining your light is about deciding to be All In by sharing your loves with others and listening to others share theirs.  Commissioner Cassellius shared her light with us that day in her office.

We all have the capabilities to shine our light. We can have a conversation with someone about the love we have for our livestock. Or maybe we volunteer at the local elementary school to strengthen our passion for educating others. By sharing what makes us shine, we truly give permission for others to do the same. What is the thing that makes you get out of bed in the morning and go to sleep with a smile on our face? How can you share that with others?

This year, I have been inspired by so many people to shine my light because they have shone theirs. I can’t thank this organization  enough for allowing me to shine my light this year. My heart has been filled by the generosity, love and service I have seen.  As my team’s year comes to end in less than two months, I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to serve an organization that has given so much to me. FFA members, teachers, advisors and supporters, continue to shine your light because you inspired me to do just that.

For the final time,

Stationed by the Plow,

Monday, March 13, 2017

Influence To Impact

                   One of the coolest experience this year for me has been attending camp this year with 500 of the coolest Minnesota FFA members I know. I had never been to camp before, so I was a little anxious to be real honest. I didn’t know the dynamic of camp and how members would fill their free time. We had written out our scripts for facilitating all the sessions weeks ahead of time, but what wasn’t planned became uncharted territory.
During our first break, a few members had grabbed me to come try swing dancing with them. First things first, I don’t dance… let alone whatever these swing dancing shenanigans were. But they said it would be fun and easy so I figured why not. They started showing me the moves, and after an hour I had one move down. By the last day of camp, what started out as 6 people swing dancing in one corner grew to two packed rooms and the hallway packed with people teaching and learning new moves.  
Even though I was a disaster at swing dancing, the 6 members who had taught me had rubbed off on me as I tried to recruit more and more people to swing dance. Those six-people had such a passion and excitement for swing dancing that it left me feeling confident in myself. And in that moment, I went from the teacher to the student. I was amazed at the influence these members had on me and those around them. They welcomed me into a situation that I wasn’t comfortable in. They helped me go All In to a situation that I wasn’t sure about.  We have influence on others every day, so how do we make sure we are leaving a positive one – one that encourages others to go All In? How do we live a life that models that positive difference, and not a negative one?
I found the answer when my teammates and I traveled to South Africa this past January. One night in South Africa we stayed in cabins in the middle of a wildlife reserve. When we were there, we ate in the lodge with food made and served by Mrs. Joyce and her crew. They were never seen without a huge smile across their face. But what started out as a normal night dining in became a night I that will forever influence the way I am.
After everyone had their main course, the staff had disappeared into the kitchen. Then after about 10 minutes or so, they came singing and dancing out of the kitchen. They were singing in
Afrikaans and all we could do was sit motionless, captivated by the performance. Their joy was infectious, and soon all of us were standing and clapping along as they sang more and more songs. The room was soon filled to the brim with song, dance, laughter and happiness, so much so that everyone started dancing along in a circle.
                    Now we had no clue what they were singing and couldn’t match their practiced moves, but they were so passionate and true to themselves that they had allowed us to feel comfortable to join them. Mrs. Joyce and her crew were from another country, spoke a different language with different culture than us – yet somehow they had completely welcomed us into their home. They had such great influence that they allowed us to feel comfortable in their home and environment. Because of that night, I am always reminded to stay true to who I am, and to lead a life of going All In, even if it is uncomfortable or scary. I am still in awe of how they had brought 50 others out of their seats to dance with them.

How can we follow Mrs. Joyce’s example to lead a life of encouraging others to step outside of their comfort zone, and not just observe? Each of us can think of someone who has influenced us to be better, go further and reach higher, now think of those who might look at you for that example. In both of my stories there were a lot of people watching, but that isn’t always the case. You could choose to invite someone to dance, and build them up to feel comfortable. When you're in the middle of something completely foreign, do you let yourself feel the joy - even if it's strange? As we near
state convention in April some of us are prepping for CDE’s or speaking events, craving to be onstage to be recognized. Proficiency awards and state degrees are also awarded after years of commitment and work. Some are even where I was a year ago, running for state office… Each of these events pushes us a little further out of our comfort zone, but the awards and offices are filled with people who aren’t idle and go All In and give it 100 percent, 100 percent of the time. So as we near the 23rd of April, get ready to jump, leap and sprint to fill those spots that beckon for someone who is willing to feel the joy and be inspired to make a difference.

Beneath The Rising Sun,

Spencer Wolter

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Pancakes and Prayers

One of my most favorite quotes is “Never stop doing little things for others; sometimes  those little things occupy the biggest part of their life.” Take a moment to think about someone who means the world to you - someone who constantly does these “little things” to help and support you. For some of us, it might be one of our best friends, a sibling or even a teacher. I care about a lot of people, but there are two people in this world who I care about who have been by my side every step of the way - my grandparents.

From the time I could walk, I remember spending so much time with these two. From ice fishing with my grandpa for the first time on Little Butternut Lake to learning how to make the world’s best sugar cookies with my grandma, these two have been the source of endless memories, laughter and pure joy in my life. No matter how rough things may get, I know they are just a short drive or one phone call away, and I am so lucky and grateful for them.

We all go through challenges in our lives. For me, my sixth grade year was one of the most challenging times in my life. Because of this, nearly every other weekend, I would find myself relaxing and going to a happy place. This happy place was in Luck, Wisconsin and was filled with tons of memories including making pancakes together every morning and praying together before bed every night. But what did these pancakes and prayers really mean to me?

PANCAKES: For those of you who don’t know, I’m a major foodie - especially when it comes to pancakes. But nobody, and I mean nobody, can make pancakes like my grandparents do. But in reality, the taste of these pancakes were just an added bonus. One morning, I remember eating pancakes with both of them on the deck and they were sharing stories and memories from when they were younger. As they shared these stories, I couldn’t help but think of how blessed I was to have these two individuals in my life willing to share their words of wisdom and encouragement with me, a twelve year old who didn’t know right from left. These pancakes and conversations we had together signified love - love in everything they did for people rather than themselves. I cannot count the number of times my grandparents bent over backwards to help me, their friends, people in their communities and even strangers. But why do they do this? Because they wish to show love in everything they do. How do you serve up your “pancakes” on the daily?

PRAYERS: While I enjoyed pancakes each morning with my grandparents, I got to end each day in an even more special way - through praying with them right before I went to bed. My sixth grade year was a turning point in my faith and they played a huge role in this. To me, our time praying together signified hope. During my rough patch in sixth grade, I often times lacked hope in myself and in my future. But by helping me grow in my relationship with God through praying with me every night I was staying with them, they inspired me to have hope in His plan. I distinctly remember one night when I was really stressed out about life, and they took the time to talk with me about everything that was on my mind. Between school and everything going on back home, I was a wreck. But this did not matter to them - they met me where I was at and helped me so I could go to bed feeling a sense of much needed hope. What do you do to instill hope in those around you?

Reflecting on the moments and memories we have with those we care about is very important, but realizing why they are significant is even more important. As FFA members, we should know that leaders are able to show love even when they may feel unloved and instill hope in those around them even if they are lacking hope in themselves. Although leaders we know may not exude love and hope in the form of pancakes or prayers, that’s a-okay. However, I believe my grandparents are leaders because of their pancakes and prayers.  Their words and actions showed me their unconditional love and help me see hope in my future. I am so grateful for every moment I have spent with each of them, and although they may not hear it as much as they deserve, I love them very much.

Think back to that person who means the world to you. Take some time today to think about what they do for you and maybe even what you can do for them to show your appreciation. Then, think about what you can do to show love and hope to those around you in everything you do. By doing this, we can make the world a better place one action at a time.

Thank you, grandma and grandpa, for being my source of pancakes (love) and prayers (hope) forever and always. I love you both more than you will ever know!

Stationed by the Door,
SO Signature.JPG
Joe Ramstad