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National FFA Week - Lessons Learned from an FFA Alumnus

In honor of National FFA Week I was asked to share about what I learned from FFA and how it benefited me.  I must admit FFA had a huge influence on my life.  I served as a chapter and district officer, raised livestock, competed in a variety of contests, earned my State and American Farmer degrees and even entered college thinking I would continue with FFA by becoming an ag adviser. I quickly realized that working with high school students all day would not be my best career path.

But honestly after all my successes with FFA, the things I remember best and most fondly are my more frequent failures.  Although I didn’t become a state officer (after running twice), I made lifelong friends through the selection process.  Although I was never the best at any of my competitions, it gave me the courage to try for my college soils judging and ag econ quiz bowl teams.  In these not only did I get to go on some amazing trips but I did have great success.  Although I didn’t win grand champion showman (I was always way too relaxed in the show ring) I learned so much from training and grooming animals for the fair.

The most memorable FFA experience was probably my most embarrassing as well. Near the end of my freshman year of high school I was elected chapter reporter for the coming school year.  There was one more district contest before the school year was out.  I was invited along to take photos.  While we were all waiting in the ag shop for the bus Mr Daugherty, my advisor, received the news that our extemporaneous speaker was sick and could not compete that day. Determined to have a contestant I was handed a binder of agriculture articles and told I would do the speech.   

On the drive to the next town over Mr Daugherty explained that for this competition I would draw a card with a topic.  I would then have 20 minutes prepare a speech on that topic in which I must cite some source materials from the binder that had been prepared by this other student.  I nervously perused the binder hoping that my topic would be well covered by someone else’s research. 

When it was time for me to begin I shakily picked my topic from some turned down index cards.  By now the butterflies have the best of stomach and my head is feeling fuzzy.  There is something written about technology I think… In reality the card read “what is your stance on the use of bio-technology in agriculture.”  Which, considering Dolly the sheep is dominating the news at this time should be an easy topic.  But I’m barely registering anything but the word “technology.”  I flip through my borrowed binder until I see the word staring back at me.

The next 20 minutes flew by and before I knew it I was standing in a room of several advisors, a few other adults and high school students.  I did my best to stretch the next 7 minutes on everything I had just learned about GPS in tractors increasing a farmer’s efficiency.  It wasn’t until the first question about embryos and ethics that I was brought back to reality.  “Excuse me, what did you just ask?” Doh, I was beating myself up inside for having been so ill-prepared, for my stupidity, and most importantly for not reading the card!

I remember the humiliation I felt as I realized I, not only never addressed my topic as I babbled on endlessly waiting for the time card to tell me I could stop, but I had no answer for the Q & A portion.  I remember my flushed cheeks and choked throat on the bus ride home just as well or better than any of my moments of pride. Mainly because of the lessons learned. First I knew I could do hard things. That even if I didn’t succeed I still had family, friends and teachers who support and care for me. And most importantly experience with failure pushed me to work hard so that the next time I could do better. And while I didn’t return to extemporaneous speaking I did spend my high school career doing many public speeches and theatre performances. As an adult I am very comfortable as a public speaker even in most impromptu settings.

So happy FFA Week.  And may we all treasure our failures as well as our successes.


Stephanie Kellogg works at Panhandle Insurance in Coeur d'Alene and is licensed in P&C and Life & Health Insurance.  She specializes in agriculture, commercial, personal and crop insurance in Northern Idaho.  She, her husband Darren, son Jasper and springer spaniel Remy spend their freetime enjoying the great outdoors of Idaho.