Tuesday, November 28, 2017

So, we got sent to the Principal's Office...

The door clicked shut behind us as we exited Principal Bach’s office. Wren and Sophi turned to me with smiling, shocked looks on their faces. “I have never met him before…he’s actually pretty nice,” trailed Wren’s verbal thoughts. I smiled back at her with a slightly puzzled expression and said, “Wait, you’d never met him before?”


On a beautiful, early November morning just a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Stillwater FFA chapter. Upon my arrival to this newly remodeled, 2,600 student high school, I asked for both a map and verbal directions to the agriculture department from the main office. This was just a bit different from the 500 student high school I grew up in where my principal and all office staff knew me by name and I was in my principal’s office at least once a week my junior and senior years (for all good things, of course). To be quite honest, I was pretty apprehensive going into my very first chapter visit of the year, especially at a school of this size.

After searching the halls of this ginormous school for about five minutes with map in hand and the verbal directions replaying in my mind, I finally made my way into Mr. Boettcher’s agriculture education classroom. At first the room reminded me of my science classrooms from high school, but I soon discovered what else Stillwater FFA members and agriculture education students had available to them as I listened to them share their experiences in the greenhouse, aquaculture room, and outside the school doors at a plot of land near a local river where they release the trout they raise in the classroom. I also had the opportunity to sit in on one of their weekly, informal meetings and hear about the happenings of the chapter, meet the officer team, and discuss the events some of the other members were involved in or excited to try in the upcoming year.

Wren, Sophi, and I in front of the awards display they put together
showcasing Stillwater FFA's outstanding work.
Allow me to introduce to you two of Stillwater FFA’s chapter officers, President Sophi and Vice President Wren. Sophi is currently a senior at Stillwater Area High School and competes on the Horse Evaluation and the Wildlife CDE teams in FFA. She plans to further pursue an education at University of Wisconsin - River Falls next fall majoring in Conservation and Environmental Planning. Wren is a junior, competes on the Horse Evaluation CDE team, and hopes to follow her passion of working with horses to pursue a double major in Animal Science and Equine Science and continue on to veterinary school after high school. These two girls have a passion for agriculture and the FFA organization similar to most of us heavily involved in FFA; they thrive in the environment and have found a second family - but they haven’t always felt the support of their school’s administration.    

As part of my visit to the school, I was asked to have a quick meeting with Principal Rob Bach. Wren and Sophi escorted me back to the main office to have my meeting. Upon introductions, Mr. Bach asked if the two girls were coming with me? Swift glances of their puzzled faces said, “No!” So…I smiled a response saying, “Yes.” We sat down at the small, round table in his office, and he asked, “So, what can I do for you today, Kylee?” As I briefly explained my role in Minnesota FFA and how FFA has been of benefit to me in my life thus far, I then reached out to the girls joining me to share what they are involved in and what their future plans included. At first, I thought Wren was going to forever dislike me from the look she gave me when I started talking about her and then asking her to talk to her principal. But based on our previous conversations on  the same information earlier that morning, I knew they had awesome stories to share! I smiled and urged them both on to continue sharing the happenings of Stillwater FFA and how it would impact member’s lives. Soon, Mr. Bach was asking questions and inquiring about specifics of Stillwater FFA and certain FFA events.

Wren and Sophi’s faces were glowing and their eyes were glimmering with hope as we sat at that table discussing agriculture with Mr. Bach, and for the first time they felt supported by their administration. Why? Because they shared their story.

As youth leaders in agriculture, we have the opportunity to share our experiences and our stories with those around us. You might ask, “Why Kylee? Aren’t all our stories the same? We all wear the same blue jacket…” And I would then respond, “No, you and your story are perfectly yours and unique. You may wear the same jacket, but the person inside that jacket is different than anyone else in the world.” This reminds me of a quote I recently came across, People love what other people are passionate about.

When we share our stories, we do three things:
1) we positively inform those around us by advocating for our passions
2) we (usually) gain support
3) we add to our own stories and learn a bit more about ourselves

Sometimes, we don’t feel like we have anything to share, much like Wren and Sophi when the meeting with Mr. Bach started. But when we walked out, they knew their stories had finally been heard and they had a newfound respect for Mr. Bach, and vise versa. Sometimes, all it takes is stepping out of our comfort zone and taking a leap of faith to share our story with someone new. Maybe that someone new is a potential sponsor or supporter of your FFA chapter, or maybe the coach of the sport you have always wished you played, or maybe it is a five minute conversation with your principal about the importance of agricultural education and FFA.

We all have the potential to share a powerful, passionate story - we just need to be brave enough to say it out loud.

If you aren’t sure where your story starts, I challenge you to grab a piece of paper and think back to the very first thing/event you participated in in FFA, or in your favorite sport, or any other activity or organization you are a part of. Now, write down why you joined. Continue with what you have done, how you have seen yourself grow, and how your participation has positively impacted your life. You now have a story. I would love to hear it. So would the rest of the world. Why? Because you are passionate about it,and “people love what other people are passionate about.”

If you know where your story starts, keep writing pages, fill chapters, share certain quotes and pages along the way, maybe even chapters, but don’t ever close your book of life. Always keep learning, growing, and sharing your experiences.

Pick your passion. Share your story. Be a #PassionateAdvocate. Be a #PassionateAGvocate.

Stationed by the ear of corn,

Tuesday, November 21, 2017


Recently, I have been spending a lot of time in the car traveling. My drive from college in Brookings, South Dakota to home is about 3 hours, so I listen to a lot of music, audiobooks, and podcasts. One of my favorite things to listen to is musicals, and as many people know, I am unashamed of my love for the musical Hamilton. I know every line to the musical, and when people ask me why I love it so much, it is hard to explain. I love history, I love musicals, and when a great mind like Lin-Manuel Miranda writes a musical about a founding father that involves fast lyrical melodies, you've got me hooked. On one of my long drives, I was jamming to Hamilton when I was about halfway through, and one of my favorite songs is up next. It is the last song of act one, and it is all about Alexander Hamilton after the revolutionary war ended and what he went on to do. Because of his social circumstances, he had to work twice as hard as any of his fellow founding fathers to build his name and reputation. This song is appropriately named Non-Stop. Lately I feel exactly like Alexander Hamilton, like I have been going nonstop the past couple of weeks.     

I have spent the past couple to weeks traveling: going to National FFA Convention, attending the Agriculture Future of America (AFA) Leaders Conference, and traveling all around Minnesota for chapter visits and conferences. I have loved every moment of the traveling and connecting with people across our nation. However, I can't seem to find five minutes to sit down to take a deep breath and rest for a while. I will be the first to admit that when I get behind or super busy the first thing I sacrifice is sleep. I will stay up way too late studying for that next big test or finishing writing a paper due that night. More and more, I have realized that I cannot keep this pace up. It is simply not healthy to do this. I think this has served as a reminder to me that we have to slow down and make time to recharge.

Because I’m  interested in this topic of losing sleep, I was curious to find out what affect sleep and relaxation has on our health. Some benefits I found from simple resting and recharging are that sleeping can help improve your memory, so when we stay up late studying for that test the next day, it will actually has a negative effect on our test taking abilities. When we get more sleep we are less stressed, sleep sharpens our attention, and helps us make better decisions. By getting an adequate amount of sleep each night, our body has time to destress allowing us to do more in less time. It might seem hard or even impossible to find time to sleep, but I assure you it is important. Sleep is just one way to relax, and if all these benefits come from just one thing, imagine what could happen if we stopped to slow down more.  

Later on in the musical, Alexander's family tries everything to get him to simply take a break, desperately begging him to come away with them for a few weeks in the summer. Unfortunately, he stays behind, and because of his stress levels, he makes some poor decisions. We know how history played out for Hamilton, but I can't help but wonder what would've happened if he had taken a break?  When we get caught up in the stress of life or the number of tasks we have to get done, we lose sight of our goals and what is really important to us. Have you been going nonstop lately? If the answer is yes, I encourage you to stop and take a breath. Especially as we go into the holiday season and sit down with our families for Thanksgiving (maybe for the first time  sitting down in a while), let's remember why taking time to rest and recuperate is important. Have you lost perspective and sight of your goals?  Find someone to hold you accountable to how busy you are, to help you slow down, and refocus. Do what is best for you. Find a technique to help maximize your time when you are working; whether  that is taking time to have coffee with a friend and catch up or maybe sitting down to dinner with your family. Find a way so you can slow down and enjoy the journey you are on.  

Stationed by the Emblem of Washington,

Spencer Flood

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Snowstorm Stuck

I packed up my last few belongings into my duffle and completed my mental checklist. White shirt? Check. Black skirt? Check. Heels? Check. Khakis? Check. With my head full of checks, I zipped up my bag, swinging it over my shoulder, finally heading out of my dorm room. As soon as I walked outside, the frigid air and snowflakes hit my face, making me cringe with uncertainty. However, there was no time to waste and I had a full drive to the cities from Crookston to attend the AgriGrowth Conference. A few hours pass, and the snow became worse and worse. Visibility was horrible and the wind shook my already small car. With a whole lot of prayer and encouraging words over the phone, I finally it made off an exit and into Fergus Falls.
Emma and Cole AKA my support system
I sat in the Walgreen’s parking lot, panicking and calling everyone and anyone who could help me. Finally, I decided I was stuck. Completely and utterly stuck. After thirty minutes of panicked calls, disaster planning, and hotel searching, I finally made my way to a local Super 8. I hauled my stuff inside and plopped down on the bed, thoughts and questions running through my head.

How could this have possibly happened?
Why, tonight of all nights?
I have an agenda! I don’t have time for this!
What am I going to do?

Tragedy struck the world on September 11, 2001 when planes hit the World Trade Center and over 3,000 people died. When all aircraft was ordered to land despite the United States closing all airspace, the small town of Newfoundland, Canada opened it’s doors for all aircraft to come into Gander International Airport. This town didn’t see any potential threat of terrorism; they saw a chance to help others get unstuck.

Sometimes, we can’t help but get stuck. We don’t necessarily try to, but we get stuck in homework and school, responsibilities, sports, CDE’s and sometimes even our friends. When we get stuck, we usually panic, stress or even shut down, which can make it even harder for us to continue. This is the point where we need to stop. Stop and recognize that we’re stuck. Once we recognize we’re stuck, we can assess the situation and begin to understand why we’re stuck, and finally be able to ask for help.  We have an array of supporters around us that continue to get us ‘unstuck,’ and we can even be one of those supporters for others.

Next time someone seems stuck and begins to doubt themselves, let’s be the support they need to get unstuck. Next time we get stuck, stop, recognize, assess, and ask.

What has you stuck recently?
How have your supporters helped you get ‘unstuck?’
How can YOU help others get ‘unstuck?’

Sometimes it just takes a moment of us stopping and asking for help, even if it’s not the easiest thing to do. My agenda may not have had a neat check next to every item, but the next morning I got unstuck and safely finished my trip to attend the AgriGrowth Conference, thankful for those who supported me.

Stationed by the flag,

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Leaving Convention with Intention

I can’t believe National Convention has already come and gone! It always amazes me at how fast this week flies by. While at convention, our team and two other phenomenal representatives from Minnesota had the opportunity to serve as delegates in the organization by making choices and giving recommendations on how the FFA can continue to improve and grow. When we weren’t in committee meetings or business sessions, we were making connections with other members from across the nation, signing the Minnesota line in the convention signature books, meeting up with old friends, or getting caught up in the thrill of convention!

Even if you haven’t been to national convention before, you have probably heard about the “sea of blue jackets" that takes over the city of Indianapolis for the week. It’s always been mind-blowing to me that I can feel so at home when surrounded by thousands of strangers. Everyone at convention seems excited for the competitions, sessions, speakers, the career fair, or any of the countless other opportunities convention holds. Each member seems to get caught up in the electrifying inspiration of keynote speakers, star finalists, and the many successful members highlighted for their achievements. I’m sure that just like me, many FFA members from across the country left convention with ideas of chapter activities, goals for the coming year, and a sense of refreshed motivation to make an impact. But after all of my years at National Convention, I know this feeling doesn’t last long, and it’s only a matter of time before it wears off.

In my middle school years, I attended a church youth conference in the Twin Cities. Just like at FFA convention, we were all excited to be involved and have a good time. However, one of our leaders said something that has stuck in my mind for all of these years. He told us, “When we’re here together, we’re like players in the football huddle. We’re excited to give it our all to be successful. But then we have the choice to either go onto the field and take action after we leave or back to the bench. Usually, we find ourselves sitting on the sidelines for a few months until we have the chance to get back in the huddle.” I have found the same thing is true for many FFA members as we leave convention.

Huddles can look different for everyone.
 They are the events, places, and people that inspire us!
We spend hours and hours listening to keynote speakers and retiring addresses, exploring the career fair, and making mental plans for our upcoming year, but if we choose to simply go back to our everyday lives once we go home, what does it matter? If we don’t take anything away from our experiences at convention, was it worth traveling the hundreds of miles to Indianapolis? Whether we are in jerseys or jackets, the huddle is the place where inspirational words and stories are shared. How ridiculous would it be if all of the football players left the huddle and sat on the bench for the rest of the game? It’s just as crazy to leave convention and simply continue our lives as we did before.

We spend the entire convention learning how to push ourselves to learn more, serve others, and become better, so it only makes sense that we take the time to put these new ideas or skills into action. We need to take the time to sit down and think about what we really took from our days at national convention. If we thought an experience was life-changing, we should let it change how we live our lives.  

Even if we didn’t attend national convention this year, we have huddle like opportunities any time we come together with people who push us to be better!  It may be at a big event like national or state convention, at a leadership conference, or during a  conversation with our FFA advisor or with a friend. We can carry on the same motivation from the huddle by finding small ways to remind ourselves of our intentions or surrounding ourselves with those who will keep us accountable.

If we write down one goal or one message we want to remember and keep it in a place where we see it every day, we are much more likely to actually change our habits. Personally, I am a huge fan of sticky notes, so I post quotes, reminders, and goals on sticky notes on my ceiling and around my room. We can also ask others we trust to help keep us accountable in the process of enacting this change in our lives. Talking to friends, advisors, and parents is a great way to make sure we continue improving and striving to reach the goals we set for ourselves at convention or during any time in our life. We need to find ways that help us put the inspiration we gain in the huddle into action on the field. How will you choose to take action?

Stationed beneath the rising sun,

Katie Benson