National exposure

MARSHALL – Education, entertainment and opportunity collided, providing a one-of-a-kind experience for more than 56,000 high school students from around the country who attended the 86th National FFA Convention and Expo recently in Louisville, Ky.

Along with FFA advisers Jason Kaare and Sarah Jacobs, 18 students from Marshall High School took part in the annual celebration.

“I think the biggest thing the students took away from this event was the sheer vastness of the organization, that’s it’s not just Marshall FFA, that there’s people from all over the country that have the same interests as them,” Kaare said. “Especially for the younger members who may have only done one contest, it’s a chance for them to see where this could take their lives in the future. They don’t know all the opportunities that are out there because they haven’t seen them yet. This gives them a bigger picture.”

Marshall senior Emily Mortier agreed, noting that she has been active in FFA for three years.

“Going to this convention has helped me see the many opportunities there are out there for a farm girl like me,” Mortier said. “I am currently working on an SAE (Supervised Agricultural Experience) for FFA, and I would have never started this if it wasn’t for my great FFA teachers and the national convention.”

FFA’s motto is to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. Marshall graduate Taylor Welu, currently a junior college student, received her American FFA Degree at the convention.

“It’s basically the highest honor you can get as an FFA member,” Kaare said. “A very small percentage actually get that recognition. She got to go across the stage during the ceremony.”

American FFA Degrees are awarded to FFA members who demonstrate the highest level of commitment to FFA and make significant accomplishments in their SAEs. Approximately 3,500 American FFA Degrees are handed out each year at the National Convention. The number represents less than half of 1 percent of all FFA members.

While at the Convention, students had the opportunity to attend nine general sessions and many leadership and career development workshops as well as engage with exhibitors from more than 450 corporations, organizations and colleges.

“I got the opportunity to go to a speaker who spoke about being an ag teacher,” Mortier said. “I want to be a teacher someday and this speech was rather helpful for me to know what I can expect in my future. My favorite thing about National Convention was the career fair. There were so many places to see, so many colleges to look at and so much free stuff.”

Kaare said that Rachel Trost is exploring the possibility of being an ag teacher and had the opportunity to learn about the career at a “Teach Ag” booth.

“There was a career fair, so kids could see what ag-related companies are out there,” he said. “That included anything from Land O’Lakes to Syngenta and any college that has an ag program. So the kids had a chance to explore different careers.”

Jacobs especially liked the opening ceremony that featured keynote speaker Rick Pitino, head coach of the University of Louisville basketball team that won the 2013 NCAA Division I title. He shared his 10-step process with the large crowd, hoping to motivate everyone to realize that “success is a choice” on the road to becoming a winner, much like that of his basketball teams.

“It thought it was a great experience,” Jacobs said. “It’s fortunate that (MHS) can bring kids here every year. I grew up in a chapter that only went once every three years. They have new speakers every year. It’s such a cool experience.”

Joe Torillo, a New York City Fire Department veteran, also spoke at the convention as did Josh Sundquist, a member of the U.S. Paralympic Ski Team. After rushing to assist in rescue efforts, Torillo was buried alive twice in the Twin Tower collapses and miraculously survived. He now speaks about big dreams and patriotism.

Sundquist was given a 50/50 chance of surviving bone cancer at the age of nine. But chemotherapy treatments and the amputation of his leg by the age of 13 saved his life. As a determined ski racer and sharp-witted author, Sundquist now inspires others.

Along with a rodeo and hypnotist shows, FFA members also attended a sold-out performance by Dierks Bentley, a rodeo, hypnotist shows and other activities.

“We went on river boat cruise in Louisville,” Kaare said. “It had a dance floor right in the middle of the boat and there were FFA kids there from across the country. I think that was one of the highlights of the trip for lots of the kids.”

The MHS students also toured Churchill Downs, which is known as the Home of the Kentucky Derby.

“I don’t know about anybody else, but I found this very interesting and felt special to be at such a famous place,” Mortier said. “We also got the chance to go to a dairy and swine farm. These were not normal farms, but large farms with hundreds of cows and pigs. This was awesome to see and a great experience.”

Kaare also enjoyed visiting Fair Oaks Farm, which is located in Fair Oaks (Ind.).

“It’s a farm that milks 30,000 cows and has a dairy educational center,” he said. “They also opened up a swine part. That was pretty cool to see. You were in hallways with glass walls, going through the gestational stages of the pigs. The kids really seemed to enjoy it, too.”

For many of the FFA attendees, including Mortier, just meeting new people was worth the trip.

“Our hotel was all the people from Minnesota, so it was fun to get to meet a lot of different people from our state,” she said. “When we went to the Louisiana basketball stadium, there were so many people packed in there. It was cool, though, to see everyone dressed the same – in their national blue and corn gold.”