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PART II Farming, My Future v v CHAPTER 9 Future Farmers of America W hen I first came to the ranch, I noticed a lot of boys wearing dark-­ blue corduroy jackets with the emblem of the Future Farmers of America (FFA) on the back and their names stitched on the front. I asked a boy what the jackets meant and how I could get one. I was told that when I got to the ninth grade, I could take the FFA as a class in school, and I would get to raise a farm animal like a pig, steer, or dairy heifer. I knew right then I wanted to have one of those dark-­ blue corduroy jackets with my name on it. When I finally reached the ninth grade, I enrolled in the FFA. First-­ year members spent two hours in class every day learning about agriculture, metalworking, and woodworking. Most towns across rural America had FFA programs in their local high schools. To become an FFA member, each student was required to stand in front of the class and recite the FFA creed from memory. When we became members , we would receive the FFA jacket. The FFA logo was the same then as it is today: an owl perched on a hand plow, the sun rising in the back over a grassy field. My heart swells with pride just remembering the first time I saw it. Guy Finstad taught my freshmen class. We were called “Greenhands ,” which is the name given to a first-­ year FFA member. Being shy and unsure of myself, I begged Mr. Finstad to let me recite the creed to him in the privacy of his office. He refused and explained that standing in front of my class would help teach me self-­ confidence. When 62 • The Grand Duke from Boys Ranch the day came, I stood in front of the class, but I could not open my mouth. I completely froze. Guy finally asked me to follow him to his office. Behind closed doors, I recited the FFA creed to an audience of one. Over the course of that year, he helped me build my self-­ confidence until the time came when I finally spoke in front of my class. Without his help and guidance, I would not have become the man I am today. The day finally came when we were given our dark-­ blue corduroy jackets. I was so proud of it. I checked to see if they spelled my name right, which they had. Little did I know how that corduroy jacket would open the doors for my future. That year, the Greenhands of the Boys Ranch FFA chapter won first place in the district competition in chapter conducting, which is a competition in parliamentary procedure, like Robert’s Rules of Order. There were two divisions within the FFA, the Junior Division for Greenhands and the Senior Division. Within each division, there were multiple teams composed of five students. Teams competed against other schools within the district; six schools were in our district. Within the FFA, the various chapters competed at three different levels: district, area, and state. The officers within each FFA chapter included a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, reporter, sentinel, and advisor. It was an honor to be an FFA officer. We didn’t campaign for offices; we were nominated, and then the chapter members voted by ballot. It was the first time I had ever been elected to any office. I was the vice president of our Boys Ranch FFA chapter. During the competition, the officers of each chapter had to recite the opening and closing ceremonies as well as conduct a mock meeting under parliamentary procedure. There were three judges who presided over the competition and provided instructions regarding business to conduct, including passing or amending motions. We practiced for hours, and this helped build self-­ confidence. It helped me more than I could appreciate at that time. The competition was nerve-­ racking, but I was never so proud to be a member of a winning team; I had never been part of anything that had won first place in my life. After the district competition, we competed in the area contest, composed of all the district winners in the Texas Panhandle. Again, we won first place, which meant we then advanced to the state finals and competed against all the ten area winners in the state of Texas. The Future Farmers of America • 63...

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