I wasn’t much good at anything it seemed.
I was just a shade over mediocrity in pretty much all that I did in my early years in high school. My grades were good, but not tops in my class. Participation in activities had to revolve around the chores at home – so there was little athletics, except track, where our coach trusted me to get my work outs in when and where I could.
I wasn’t much of a world traveler either.
Our big trip of the year was usually the yearly trek to Fargo when my brother had his doctor’s appointment. If we were really lucky, we might get to take a weekend trip down to St. Paul to visit my mother’s side of the family.
My freshman year in high school, I followed in my brother’s footsteps and joined our local FFA Chapter. FFA, then known as the Future Farmers of America, was just up my alley. For the most part, it conformed to our communities, and my families, standards and schedule.
As our FFA advisor stated, you could do as much or as little as you wanted – that choice was up to you. And the schedule always seemed to fit around chores.
The highlight of the year, for those of us willing to work to get there, was a trip to the Minnesota State FFA Convention in St. Paul and Minneapolis as long as we earned our way there by placing in a contest.
That first year, I participated and won our regional extemporaneous speaking contest. I was shocked. My advisor was thrilled. Not only because I had won, but because I had knocked off the two time defending champion from our biggest rival…and his nemesis, the advisor from the other chapter…wasn’t happy. He walked up to my advisor, Mr. Erickson and said with vengeance in his voice: “Your kid got lucky, Erickson!” Those words became an often repeated phrase in our ag class – with my advisor smiley broadly anytime someone would repeat it.
For me, most importantly, it won me a spot at the state convention.
That trip to St. Paul was filled with firsts. The first time at the mighty U of M campus, the first time staying in a hotel, the first time seeing and experiencing the thrill of the sea of blue corduroy that swarmed the campus. I heard people talking about believing and achieving. I heard the call to think big thoughts, to dream big dreams. This is not what I thought farming and agriculture were all about.
I saw young men and women my own age, on stage, being rewarded for their efforts. I saw the state officers, young people only a few years older then me, running this organization of over 8000 young men and women.
The Tuesday morning of state convention, I participated in the Minnesota FFA Extemporaneous speaking contest. I was terrified. A freshmen in what seemed like a room of seniors. People with much more experience then I did, walking in to speak to judges that knew much more about agriculture then I did.
Out of eight other students, I placed second.
“My kid got lucky!” Mr. Erickson said when he found out the results. And in truth, I did. I went on to do, and to earn, many honors and awards in my career in the FFA…but in was that first convention that taught me that I was more then mediocre, and there is nothing ordinary about anyone that wears that blue corduroy jacket.
My brother and I, reviewing our haul from our local FFA Banquet