Agriculture, Thoughts and Lessons Learned

After Unzipping the Blue and Gold Jacket


Every time I hear anyone start a sentence with “I believe…” I can’t help but finish it quietly in my head with “…in the future of agriculture.”  To me, it is more than just a sentence. It is something that I truly believe and trust in through and through, and it is a motto that defines so much of who I am and how I have chosen to live and work. I know that I am one of the lucky ones, because my connection to the National FFA Organization extends much longer than my four years in high school. My earliest memories of the FFA go back to when I was five and my dad had just started as the new ag instructor and FFA adviser at Hermiston High School. Most of the high school has been rebuilt since then, but I distinctly remember his upstairs classroom that looked out over the metals shop and the thick layer of dust and grit that covered everything. I remember sitting on the high stool in Mr. Miller’s classroom during chapter meetings and going around with all of the students to “help” them with their animals at the county fair. As I got older, I became my dad’s tag-a-long, taking in all that I could and dreaming of the day that I would get my own corduroy jacket with my name stitched on it.

On Monday, back in Oregon, my home association wrapped up what I know was another successful state convention. Students are exhausted from nights that they hardly slept a wink, advisors are reminded why they got into this business and that freshman, who just attended their first major FFA event, has a whole new perspective on what the next three years of high school could mean. But as I am approaching my own college graduation, my heart especially goes out to those high school seniors whose time in the corduroy jacket is coming to an end.

As I have started to prepare for the transition from college to career, I have been doing a lot of reflection over my experiences in college, and a few times, I have been taken back to the last time I went through a major transition as a high school senior. Being a FFA member was so much of who I was and the thought of not having that as a part of my identity was a little bit scary. After my senior chapter banquet my mom found me crying, which most people know is something that I rarely do, because I had worn my jacket for the last time.

This is Fred, one of my high school best friends and probably the best person I ever met through FFA.
This is Fred, one of my high school best friends and probably the best person I met through being a part of FFA.

In my reflection though, I am not wishing to be back in official dress or on those stages again. No, I have been thinking about how that experience has impacted the one I am just about to end and how it might impact the one I’m about to start. I’m thinking about what has come after unzipping that jacket. Now I don’t claim to possess any profound wisdom and magic formula to how to capitalize on those experiences, but I do have experiences and they have lead to a point in my life where I can step back, give myself a pat on the back and take a breather before tackling what comes next.

For what it’s worth, there are a few the lessons that I took with me and then learned along the way. Given a cup of coffee and someone to listen, I bet I could make an evening out of this, but in a nutshell (think a rather large nutshell,) here’s what I have for those seniors who are right where I was not so long ago.

Change is hard, and that is one of the few things that doesn’t change…
Sorry, but that’s the cold hard truth. Personally, this continues to be my biggest challenge and I know that it will always be one that I face. Remember, change is natural and something that we can’t control, and to resist it really isn’t being fair to ourselves. Don’t worry, I promise you will find familiar things along the way and honestly, deep down aren’t you really curious about what’s ahead for you?

Don’t get caught up looking in the rearview mirror…
Think about it. The windshield is your future, big and open, demanding most your attention to look forward in order to navigate what is up ahead for you. The rearview mirror is your past, still deserving a glance or two to remember where you’ve been, but ultimately you’ve already moved on from there. Spending too much time in the rearview mirror doesn’t allow you move forward and enjoy life as it comes at you. To give proper credit, I pulled this one from Habitudes: The Art of Navigating Change by Dr. Tim Elmore that I am currently reading and highly recommend.

You will surprise yourself…
Again…and again…and again. Whether you go on to attend college or not, many things in life that you valued and believed in will be challenged. You will second guess yourself, change your mind and find yourself places that you never pictured. As you learn and grow you will continue to surprise yourself. My advice? Let yourself get lost. I mean, don’t go crazy out of control, but I truly believe that you can’t find what you want out of life, if you don’t let yourself get a little lost.

Your hard work really will pay off…
My work ethic is something that I have always allowed myself to take a bit of pride in. I always used to think that as long as I worked hard enough, things would go in my favor. If they didn’t, I would be disappointed in myself, and that is where my thinking went wrong. I have learned that the people you meet, things you learn and places you go in the process of working hard is the true reward because of the opportunities that those things lead you toward. So hard work might not pay off in the exact cookie cutter way that you expected it to, but trust me, it WILL pay off.

I’m glad I didn’t win that blue banner…
It might sound a little crazy now, but experiencing disappointment at that point, has helped me in leaps and bounds since then. This ties in a little bit with the point I just made about hard work, but I also think it says a lot about someone’s character if one knows how to handle disappointment with grace, grow from those experiences and move forward with greater fervor. Disappointments in life will obviously never leave us or get easier, but how we handle them can make all of the difference. I’ve learned to be thankful for some of the prayers and wishes that went unanswered.

The world is full of good people…
I’ve always knew that I was very blessed have the family, friends and mentors that I had in my life . What I didn’t realize is just how full the world is with other people like them. I’ve never had time to be lonely, because I’m too busy discovering why the world shouldn’t be losing hope. I’ve learned that the meaning of family extends far beyond its definition, and some of the best people in your life will land there in the most unexpected ways.

It’s ok to be scared…
Subconsciously I think I always tend to run toward things that scare me and then wonder how I got there. Now I think I am slowly starting to understand why. Being scared means that you have beliefs, values, goals and ultimately, something to lose. It means that you are alive and that you care. And it’s ok to be scared because it teaches you humility, to practice good judgement and it gives you things to be thankful for.

The future of agriculture really is bright…
The words “I believe in the future of agriculture” made up the final statement in my speech for the Prepared Public Speaking CDE my senior year and never have I believed those words more than I do now. There is something special and unique about the tradition, innovation, community and hard work in this industry, and spending the rest of my life being a part of it is the most rewarding lifestyle that I could imagine having. Agriculture is alive, it is strong and it will always have a place for those who have unzipped their jacket.

If only I had known what all was ahead of me then...
If only I had known what all was ahead of me then…

I am thankful for my time in the jacket and even more thankful for the memories, tools and courage that have stayed with me since I unzipped it. Congratulations seniors and good luck on your journey ahead.

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