FFA provided me more than I could ever have expected

Michelle Stangler
We recorded most of the online convention in a studio, where the yearly gavel picture was taken to signify the start, with no in-person members present.

It’s the time of the year when memories made in the National FFA Organization all come rushing back. From competitions to serving the agricultural youth leadership organization in many capacities, National FFA Week brings them back into focus.

Celebrated Feb. 18-25, many festivities and events put on by FFA members are all different across the state. I too, once was a FFA member. The National FFA Convention & Expo in Oct. 2022 was my last official event as a member as our membership expires the fourth convention after high school graduation.

Taking it all the way back when I was elementary school is when my journey began. My sisters, Tracy and Amber, were actively participating in contests, community service and much more. I wanted to be just like them – having fun while growing my skills related to the agricultural industry.

Never did I realize I would be here today as involved as ever, and even writing about the stories spotlighting the agricultural community. That’s the beauty of the organization – you never know where it will take you.

I officially joined FFA in seventh grade. It’s then that I realized how much larger FFA is. I could attend national conferences, serve the community and perhaps one day serve as a Wisconsin FFA state officer. Leadership development event - quiz bowl - infused me with many ideas that’s led to where I am today.

Participating in activities that required me to step outside of my comfort zone is where I grew the most as a leader. To be sure, there were many stressful hours this time of the year while I was still in high school, from filling out award applications to serving as a chapter officer.

Wanting to serve in another capacity at the state level brought friends and connections that’s helped me grow to be the person I am today. Elected to serve as a Wisconsin FFA State Vice President brought not only an experience of a lifetime, but a team of people wanting to serve the community who also cared about each other.

I never imagined myself running on stage after hearing my name called during the Wisconsin FFA State Convention. There were times I doubted if I was good enough to fit for the role as a state officer.

Our term started with trainings and attending events like the Wisconsin State Fair. It was an experience that focused on helping others, but also myself. Through connections within the agricultural industry to seeing members excited brought me personal joy.

The best part was seeing other people happy, as cliché as that sounds. My former teammate Ryan Erickson, says terms like commitment, connections and community sum up his year as a state officer.

Due to the pandemic, our year as a state FFA officer team ended virtually, an experience none of us could have ever pictured.

Needing to connect virtually with our audiences was important for us, and myself and teammate Jared Mack took upon the challenge to creatively use sticker stars to close out a session announcing the award star winners.

“I could use a lot of words to describe those months our team worked through the COVID-19 pandemic (including words like) disappointing, frustrating, and isolating to name a few,” said Erickson. “But what I also found was that COVID-19 gave us all plenty time for reflection.”

The experience brought more of a perspective then, he said. "The halt to only virtual activities was a reality check and that true service is not self-seeking, yet can still be extremely rewarding.

Beginning in March of 2020, all activities were either cancelled or modified with a hybrid format, a change that was hard for myself as well as other teammates including State FFA Secretary Jared Mack.

“For each of us, it was hard to wrap our minds around what state convention would look like in a virtual format,” Mack said. “When it came down to it, we stuck together, had tough conversations and did the best we could to put on the best virtual convention across the country.”

We never realized the impact that our videos would have, reaching over 150,000 people, with the virtual convention bringing in a total of 400,000 viewers, Mack added.

And, for many of us, we knew we were still able to serve FFA members; our end goal.

“It was hard, since it was all unknown and we didn’t expect it,” said Lindsey Augustine who also served as the Wisconsin FFA State Vice President.

Watching a convention while four-wheeling was never what us state officer team members could have imagined, but a memory that will stand.

As a team of 10, once strangers and now friends, we came together and recorded videos for the virtual FFA state convention, and watched them in the rolling hills of Arcadia, Wisconsin – four-wheeling.

Today, you can find many of us still helping in different capacities in the National FFA Organization. Mack and Erickson are high school agricultural and technology education teachers, and Augustine is looking forward to the upcoming summer in Washington D.C. as a conference facilitator for the Washington Leadership Conference.

My other teammates are busy as ever, too. We touch base from time to time, and some of us have grown close together after nearly three years of retiring from the role.

Never would I have thought I would be as close to people across the state, from every section and corner in the area. I’m grateful for the experiences that have led me to where I am today, a college student. Today, you can find me giving back to the organization from serving as a National FFA Convention newsroom intern for the last two years, reporting on stories to assisting with National Ag Day resources for students.

At the end of the day, taking that first leap and stepping outside of my comfort zone turned out to be all themes of my time in the blue corduroy jacket. Looking forward to celebrating National FFA Week alongside 850,823 FFA members is sure to spark more special memories. 

Albert Einstein once said, “Only a life lived in the service to others is worth living”. That's a good reminder to live and to serve.