Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Defining Your Blue Jacket

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,
SO Signature Transparent.png
Joe Ramstad

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Blessed Beyond Measure

Blessings. A beneficial thing for which one is grateful. It’s a word I grew up with, but never considered. A word that always surrounded me, but who’s individual acts I never recognized. In the last 345 days, I’ve had endless “Blessed Beyond Measure” moments. From day to day, I lose track of how often I feel content, full, and overjoyed. From day to day, I lose count of the times I feel blessed. Many people refer to their blessings with three words: “Faith, Family, and Love.” I’ve noticed my blessings come in the shape of People, Principle, and Possibility.

“I am convinced that different people awaken different beasts in you.” Every time my cousin Colton came home from football, he reminded me of how much of a beast he is. He’d pull up his sleeves and glance from one buff arm to the other. Colton took pride in his “beastliness;” his strength was one of his many attributes. Although sports brought out a genuine pride in Colton, there was so much more to him. Since fifth grade, he chased after his fiancĂ©, Nikki, with more heart than I’ve ever seen in a boy, and now a man. I can still remember our car rides home from youth group, which were filled with big brother moments anytime I mentioned a boy. Like Colton, we are each filled with multiple attributes, or “beasts.” As I traveled around Minnesota this year, I noticed “beastliness” in me I never knew was there. What I find pretty wild is that each of you brought out a different “beast” in me. My homegirl, Megan Stich from Royalton, brings out the believer in me. With each hug from Megan, I know that my goals and dreams matter just as much as anyone else’s. Scott Folz of Willmar reminds me of how hungry I am to be better. Each day, Scott works to improve his skills as a leader and grow membership in his chapter. Kierra Carter from Hancock, shows a quiet but rambunctious soul. Watching her grow at the State Greenhand Leadership Conference and recently be elected to the Region III Officer team reflected my own spirit of sweet surprise. Mitch Morris from AFSA brings out the quirky confidence in me. From Skype chats to replicating the same picture every time we see each other, Mitch lives all in without the concern of what others think. I’m blessed because of the “beasts” people have helped me identify.
Mitch and Sophie in the original "quirky" picture

Principle: a kind of rule, belief, or idea that guides you. My adventures in the blue jacket have given me belief after belief, many of which I have adapted for myself. I believe in the future of agriculture, and the leadership it requires to reach that desired future. Each day, I live by the rule that I can improve, because FFA members don’t give up. I also live by the idea that FFA is a place where everyone can hang their hat. Over and over again, FFA members have proven this belief to me. Abby Stumpner from AFSA has a knack for science, and found her niche in the state and national AgriScience Fair. Josie Lang of Sleepy Eye and Anna Zwach of Tracy have a love for random dance moves and “adventure hats.” Their unique personalities found each other and prove to be one of the best friendships I’ve seen come out of our organization. Some of the coolest things I’ve ever seen, result from Minnesota FFA members. They open my mindset and give me beliefs that define who I am. My principle has been established through my faith and the blue and gold – I couldn’t be more blessed.

Like Shawna, my first FFA jacket
was the first of many possibilities.
“All things are possible to him who believes;” Mark 9:23. Walt Disney was famous for believing in dreams, and more than ever, Minnesota FFA members are turning dreams into reality. Believing in your end goal can make your future much more achievable. I realized this at my first state convention. State President, Shawna Conrad, was giving her retiring address. At one point, she shared the story of owning her first FFA jacket, something she never thought would be possible – yet she did it. This is exactly what I needed to hear to believe that I too, could make more things possible. Soon, I was building my future like it was going to be bigger than the White House. My mind wasn’t set on what I could do, but what I would do. Five years in FFA gave me the principle to believe in a customized future and the tools to make it possible. Because I believe in possibilities, not just dreams, I am blessed.

Blessings. A beneficial thing for which one is grateful. According to the definition, I believe each one of us is blessed. Take time to notice the people who bring out your best “beasts,” the principles you’ve decided or want to live by, and the possibility you have to form your future. I benefited from and am grateful for people, principle, and possibility. You too, can be blessed by the same things. Today, thank those people, write down your principles, and map out your possibilities.

Last but not least, thank you – it’s because of each of you I know I am blessed beyond measure.

For the Final Time - Stationed by the Flag,

Rebekka Paskewitz
Minnesota FFA Reporter