Heroes in blue corduroy initiate, create, and illuminate!

I met her the first time at the Leona United Methodist Church Easter 2018. She’s a stand up for her faith person – no doubt, a champion because of it. She is mature and focused as she talks about career goals after high school. A recent graduate of Troy, Lanaya Kenyon moves on, with leadership, training, and education skills gained from her school and membership in Future Farmers of America, or FFA. She’s excited for the state FFA convention, held June 12-14 in The Bryce Jordan Center, State College, Pa. 

This year she joins nearly 13,000 other members. I tell her I’d love to write a story about her FFA participation and the convention, not realizing the positive impact it will have on my path. “Great,” she says, seeming a bit pensive. “But the interview will have to be when I get back. I’m too busy preparing for the event.” “In the meantime,” she adds, “you can watch the three sessions on YouTube if you like.” Effective leadership, I’m thinking. “Absolutely,” I answer, “please send me the links, and thank you.” “No! Thank you,” she remarks. 

A recap of the sessions follows, with a personal reflection from Lanaya. I had no expectations as I opened the YouTube app on my phone to start session 1 a few days later. But I was filled with enthusiasm, life lessons and hope. Each session was equally inspiring, being led by eager current state officers who have served one full year after their high school graduation. Their poise and strong character was evident. Behind them were a strong support system and a program that is an educational asset to the state of Pennsylvania. Of course, this is my strong opinion after watching the sessions. If you’d like a view, check YouTube, PA State FFA Convention 2018.

The convention was much more than well-deserved awards and recognition for members and staff. It was packed with interesting program and school cooperatives, video presentations, musical, and motivational highlights. It was refreshing to hear the sound of faith being acknowledged and high levels of respect being shown for self and others. The FFA is a youth group, ready to lead. The science of agriculture is obviously still one of the pillars of our nation’s growth. Many field programs of competition were recognized. In addition, numerous opportunities for college study were showcased. Without a doubt, personal growth and community outreach is part of the FFA college prep program in high school. Leadership is FFA! 

Countless awards were given. FFA members were recognized personally on stage and applauded by their peers. Bradford County’s Troy team placed first in Dairy Management. Jenna Harnish, of Athens, was chosen the incoming State FFA President for 2018-19. All accepted their awards with humility, proudly wearing the traditional blue corduroy jackets, and modest dress attire. 

Throughout the event, the words of focus were “initiate, create, illuminate. Trey Elizondo, former National FFA West Region Vice, opened the FFA group ears and eyes with a powerful talk. “We are each blessed with talents and skills that make us enough, just as we are. Don’t let the fear of not being good enough defeat you. Go after what you want with all your might. You are enough!”

Kate Garnes, a 20 something motivational speaker, counted gratefulness as the key to opening success doors. Once open, “Find a reason to fight for yourself,” she says. “Be a gladiator! Think it, speak it, live it!” 

In the final session of the FFA State Convention 2018, the current seven 2017-18 state FFA officers had their say. They each created stage presence, sharing highlights of their year of service, and inspiring their audience to rise to the cause of initiating change, creating opportunities, and illuminating the world. Agricultural education is not just about farming. “It’s about providing a foundation to stand on, to win the battles within that try to defeat us,” says 2017-18 PA FFA President, Nathan Moyer, of Selinsgrove. He also said, “We all need to take accountability for small decisions that have a large impact on ourselves and others.”

I have been to leadership seminars that weren’t this empowering. Bravo FFA!

Taylor Halbleib, of Elizabethtown, outgoing PA FFA secretary, quoted J.K. Rowling.

“We do not need magic to transform the world. We have all of the power inside of us already.” Taylor added, “This past year, the courage, knowledge, service, and dedication of all FFA members, has transformed my world. There are 13,000 heroes in my life. Thank you, heroes who wear blue corduroy.” The crowd resounded with cheers of joy and applause.

To conclude the three-day power packed event, outgoing officers were recognized and new officers were installed. The torches were passed to each officer, and the 14 stood together, one behind the other, symbols of leadership and edification. It was honorable and memorable. All FFA participants are winners and team players I noticed. All had grown in positive ways (even my 50 something self, watching from the kitchen table near the fields of fresh cut hay and cow pastures), from being part of Future Farmers of America. 

Lanaya Kenyon expresses her personal experience at the convention with gratitude as follows.

 “Running for Pennsylvania FFA State Office was a journey of a lifetime. Before I began I didn’t realize what an impact the experience would have on my life. For the past four years I have worked hard to become a state officer. Even though I didn’t receive a position, I know God has something for me to accomplish at this time. The process itself was certainly interesting. Day one began with my 5-minute introduction speech, followed by a round robin. Each of 28 candidates had five minutes to talk with each nomination committee member. Dinner followed. Then we, the state officer candidates, got the crowd excited for the first general session. During the session, each of the candidates introduced ourselves on stage. Immediately following the session we rejoined the interview process. More questions and answers followed with the committee, ending at 1:30 a.m.! Another round of interviews continued on day 2.”

She added, “The excitement, the emotions, and the stress were steaming full ahead. It was one of the most emotional weeks of my life. I met amazing people and the candidates became close, as a family. This experience was once in a lifetime. I am so very happy I ran for office, even though I wasn’t chosen.” 

She continued, “The final session, we gathered in a huddled line as the exciting / intimidating music began to play. As each new state officer was announced, tears were certainly flowing with everyone, happy for the deserving. I’m certainly so proud of the 2018-19 team and I know they will accomplish amazing things. Though I took off my blue and gold jacket for potentially the last time I’m very thankful. My years as an FFA member were the most beneficial time of my life. I thank my family, friends, and my supporters, who encouraged me along this journey. It truly means a lot and I love living in a small town.”

Fortunately, thanks to Lanaya, I had the opportunity to view high school students and 20 year olds believing in their purpose. Their work ethic and leadership skills are impressive. Initiate, create, illuminate is a theme that starts with belief. 

In Pennsylvania, FFA members believe that when you catch a glimpse of your potential, passion for your purpose is born. These young adults are true to themselves; see everyday as a way to inspire; build relationships; and count blessings. Well on their way they are, to making the world a better place.

Jennie Simon can be reached at writerjenniesimon@gmail.com, or you can learn more about her at writerjenniesimon.com.

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