I recently found myself inescapably trapped in a traffic jam in Indianapolis. It wasn’t cars and trucks, but a sea of blue jackets that prevented me from moving. I was in a hurry to meet with some folks for an interview and was being temporarily delayed without any hope of moving. The reason: the National Anthem.
I was riding up the escalator just outside of the arena prior to the start of a session. All of the televisions in the hallway featured a lone corduroy-clad FFA member singing a beautiful, respectful version of the National Anthem then switched to a picture of the flag. The escalator was packed with FFA members trying to get to their seats for the start of the Session and everyone (to a person) stopped in the places they were standing with their hand over their heart, respectfully watching the flag on the multiple televisions in the vicinity. The problem, of course, was that the disrespectful escalator kept relentlessly hauling the students to the next floor where they began to pile up all around me in a mass of patriotic FFA members. By the time the song was done, quite a crowd had amassed and there were FFA members falling all over each other, but almost no words broke the respectful silence.
At the other sessions, I was amazed every time more than 50,000 teenagers and their advisors in one arena stood in complete silence between the pauses in the national anthem. It happened over and over again. I’d purposefully listen during the pause after “banner ye-et wa-ave.” Every time. Silence. Amazing.
Then, after “home of the brave” thunderous applause and cheers of USA, USA, USA erupted from every corner of the formerly quiet arena. Also amazing.
As always it was a real pleasure to see so many talented, hard working FFA members from around Ohio get recognized at the highest levels of competition. For example, Chrysta Beck of Pettisville was the American Star in Agriscience winner. She has worked extensively with poultry for her project.
“It is pretty amazing. It is a lot of work and it feels good to be here,” Beck said. “My project ranged from general broiler production factors to in-egg injection of probiotics as an antibiotic alternative, so it was a wide range of the poultry industry to say the least. In my production factors I looked at different temperature ranges and I found the ideal temperature range to use in my facilities. I also found that probiotics may be a viable option for the poultry industry as we move forward to antibiotic free programs.”
Beck is at Mississippi State University finishing up her undergrad degree with plans to eventually go to vet school and start a career in avian medicine and research. Beck’s passion for poultry and dedication to her work have served her well, but it hasn’t always been easy.
“Don’t be afraid to try and go for it. If it is a passion of yours, look into it and work hard for it,” she said. “I have had many hypotheses that are not supported by the data I have collected. It is good to not get discouraged by that. The work will always go on.”
It was not just Ohio’s students that were recognized. This state is also home to many talented advisors. Stephanie Jolliff, the FFA advisor for the Ridgemont Chapter was recognized for her years of student success as an Outstanding Agricultural Education Teacher.
“I have been blessed to have a career in ag education. For those looking into this profession, it is one of the greatest professions you can choose because you have the opportunity to mold and impact young people and really focus on how we provide transferrable skills. I have been at Ridgemont for 12 years and have been teaching for 21 years. I have a passion for ag education. I am working on my PhD right now with an interest in continuing to pursue the growth of agricultural education so we can continue to feed and clothe our growing population,” Jolliff said. “Every young person has amazing God given talents that I think it is our job to find and polish. Many times kids walk into our classrooms and don’t understand those hidden treasures they have within their heart. I think the beauty of ag teachers across the country is being able to connect with kids one on one, understand what their talents are, and then hone in on those through agricultural education and truly bolster the next leaders of our country.”
She pointed out that the always-evolving FFA provides the framework for teachers to help student success.
“Kids come out of FFA with a strong passion for work and change and a desire for things to be improved. That is what ag teachers do and why people teach ag,” Jolliff said. “At the heart of this is the structure of the FFA. The rigor, the content and the curriculum have continued to grow. If we look in the fields of agriculture and how a tractor has changed, that is really how ag education has transformed. We are producing good students but the technology and the tools have changed.”
Even Ohio FFA alumni were showcased at the event. Honorary American Degrees were presented to Leah Amstutz of Columbus, Karen Cooley of Williamsfield and Andrew Muntz of Columbus. Mark Schweitzer, VP of investor relations for ADM and Liberty Benton FFA alum, was onstage at the National Convention in his role as the 2017 Chair for the National FFA Foundation Sponsors’ Board.
“We had $25.8 million generated in the last year. It was raised by the Sponsors’ Board made up of companies all across North America and individual donors. It will go into scholarships, education, leadership programs, and some of it will filter back into the state organizations. Giving back to the students is the real goal,” Schweitzer said. “For me agriculture is a career. It is a passion. If you walk out of here and this is not contagious to you, you’d better look in the mirror because something is wrong. If the future is in their capable hands, I’m comfortable. These students are motivated.
“All of us may compete in some sectors of the business in the agricultural value chain, but we have common goal of creating a talent pipeline for the future. Everybody throws their hat in the ring and works hard to be able to raise those dollars to go back into these programs. Industry is stoked about what they can do with this organization.”
In my experience of attending many years of the National FFA Convention, Schweitzer is right. It is impossible to not feel better about our state, our nation and our future during a visit to the event, even if you have to endure an occasional traffic jam.