By EMMA HOPKINS-O’BRIEN
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Last Thursday, in what was the final session of this year’s Indiana FFA State Convention, seven new faces were nominated and chosen to serve on the officer team.
The new officers – who will be serving Indiana’s more than 12,000 FFA members – include: Dillon Muhlenkamp of the Portland chapter, president; Caitlyn Lewis of the Frontier High School chapter, secretary; Morgan Hinz of the South Central Union Mills chapter, Northern region vice president; Nathan Fairchild of the South Decatur chapter, Southern region vice president; Noah Berning of the Heritage High School chapter, treasurer; Taylor Roy of the Franklin chapter, reporter; and Eion Stephens of the Tecumseh High School chapter, sentinel.
The 90th State FFA Convention, which was a four-day event of competition, service, bonding, and fun, also ended with a tearful goodbye to the 2018-19 officer team. Purdue University’s Elliot Hall of Music was full of cheers for the new officers, who will be deferring their college education for a year to travel the state with the task of inspiring and leading the organization’s younger members.
Lewis, who wants to be an ag teacher, was thrilled to achieve her goal at this year’s conference. “Honestly it’s so surreal,” she said. “Getting to this point, I just wanted to make sure I was myself, and I wanted to make sure I gave it everything I had. It paid off and I’m so excited to be able to serve this next year.”
Stephens wants to help younger members as he was inspired in eighth grade by state officers at the time.
“I saw those state officers onstage and I knew, I told my ag teacher back then, that I wanted to be one of them one day,” he said. “I want to impact all those kids just like I was impacted back then.”
If he could go back in time to give his younger self advice, it would be to not hold back. “I hesitated a couple times, and looking back, I wish I would’ve just went for it. Just go after your goals, even if you’re scared to do it.”
Similarly, Roy wants to teach younger members how to become confident.
“There’s one line that has always stuck out to me in the FFA creed, and that is, ‘I can and will exert an influence in my home and community,’ and this is just part of putting that plan into action, and this week as I was going through the nomination process, they asked me why I want to serve, and I said two words: I just want to ‘impact others,’” she explained.
With the tumultuous times agriculture has experienced for the past year, the new team seems inspired to take on its challenges. Fairchild believes part of the solution will include open communication.
“It’s all about attaining that leadership role whether you’re in hard times or in really good, prosperous times with a bountiful harvest,” he said. “So it’s being able to understand the issues we’re facing in the ag community and know how to talk about them, because knowing how to talk about them is the first step.
“So, if you can bring the problems forward and address them, and maybe even be able to brainstorm solutions to these problems, it would be way easier and better to be able to communicate with the ag community this year.”
For Berning, becoming a state officer has been a dream since sixth grade. He is excited to energize members and challenge them to step up for agriculture in tough times.
“I think it’s going to push us to advocate for the industry as a whole,” he said. “There’s a lot of different issues that we’re facing right now, to be able to push members to realize that no matter what kind of issues we’re facing, we can push for information we know to be true and push to be better for the industry.”
Hinz said it is also important to be sure FFA members will have connections to lean on when they graduate and find their place in the industry – and caring for ag is most achievable when they realize how much it can give back to them.
“We’re going to show them that they have the skills and what it takes to be the leader, and that they’re going to have the opportunity to be such,” she said. “We’re going to focus on having those members develop and show them that the ag industry is always going to last.
“It’s very important that they have the faith and passion for ag and that they will have the industry to be a home for them.”
As president, Muhlenkamp hopes he and his team can show members that all aspects and angles of the ag industry need to support each other. “I think it’s important for FFA and ag as a whole to show a united front, because if we’re not showing that united front, then it’s going to be easier for us to be attacked,” he said.
“And we need to show that agriculture is the future – the future of ag, and the future of America, really, because if we don’t have ag, then what are we, really?”