Jacob Dickey is being honored as a Champion of Change for his efforts in 4-H and Future Farmers of America.
Growing up, my family always stressed the importance and value of a quality education. Before my grandfather passed away, I often remember him asking how school was going, what I was learning, and how I would apply it to my life. I could always answer the first two questions, but the last one never failed to make me ponder. After a swift chuckle, each time he reminded me to pursue rigorous coursework in Math, Science and English. However, I always remember him stressing to take vocational courses. I never fully understood the importance of his words until I began to pursue agricultural education and became a member of FFA.
Agricultural Education has done more for me than my core academic subjects could have ever done. While I appreciate the knowledge I gained from my calculus and physics classes, none of these courses developed my skills in premier leadership, personal growth and career success. These three skills are the foundation of all agricultural education programs in the United States.
Throughout my years in agriculture education, I have learned about various topics in agriculture- from crop sciences to animal production to business management and more. I have also cultivated the ability to stand up for something I felt passionate about and learned to share my views in front of thousands of people. I developed crucial skills in networking, problem solving, public speaking, leadership and organization. My agricultural education has provided me with an abundance of experiences, from visiting with high school students who have found passion and purpose in agriculture, to traveling to Europe and observing the differences in education and agriculture.
I am forever grateful that I took my grandfather’s wisdom to heart. Each year, FFA and agricultural education give over 520,000 of my fellow students the opportunity to define their future by planting individual seeds of leadership, passion and opportunity. It gives students the chance to apply what they learned into real world situations, and inspires students to go above and beyond in ways many of them have never dreamed. The one thing I will always appreciate the most about agricultural education is the value it places on the world and making a positive difference in the lives of others.
Finding unique and innovative ways to bring agricultural students together with civic organizations was something I felt immensely passionate about. In order to foster growth amongst the members I served, I knew it was important to get students excited to make a difference in the lives of others while inspiring themselves through the process. With the connections I made myself as an FFA member, I brought together businesses and civic organizations in my state, including the Coca Cola Bottlers Association, the Illinois Special Olympics, and numerous local groups and organizations. I started a service campaign dedicated to the Special Olympics, revolving around the last three words of the FFA motto, “Living to Serve.” Once just an idea, the concept turned into a full blown campaign that reached over one-thousand students in schools across Central Illinois. Personally, whenever I think of education, life and serving others, I always think of the quote “go the extra mile; it’s never crowded.”
Reflecting back, I realize that giving the students the chance to make a difference through interacting with those in the community is more powerful than any classroom curriculum. That’s why I believe in the FFA and its ability to shape young teens into powerful leaders of the upcoming generations. The FFA leaves students with a sturdy foundation to go out and achieve dreams, accomplish goals and change the world. The FFA gives students the chance to believe in something larger than their own lives. The FFA inspires students to step up in their schools, their communities and their world, striving for a better tomorrow. The FFA makes a positive difference in the lives of others through premier leadership, personal growth, and career success.
To the FFA members out there reading this, remember at the end of the day that you extend your own life by contributing to something that will outlast you. That's why the FFA is so special. And that's why, when you hang up that blue jacket for the final time, you should continue to love it, to give to it, and to make sure that the opportunities you have been given-the education you have been given- is maintained. You should treat the organization you grew in like a jewel in your life and in your heart because of what it did for you. Regardless of where we go in life after wearing the blue and gold, those of us who wore that corduroy jacket have been bonded by agriculture, inspired to make a difference, and cultivated into the next generation of leaders. We are now, and will always be, forever blue.
Jacob E. Dickey is a sophomore studying Agricultural Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.