February 23, 2011 by olivere7
There are four blue corduroy jackets hanging in a closet at my parents’ house.
The first is the simplest, but is representative of something huge. The front sports an emblem on the front left, as well as the back. It’s an emblem that represents the largest youth led organization in the world, composed of over half a million students from all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and now Japan. Above that emblem, on the back of the jacket, reads “Michigan,” a state rich both in agricultural diversity and in the quality of the future agriculturalists that it is home to. Below that emblem is the word “Byron,” indicative of a small farming town with a higher population of cows than people. On the front of the jacket, the right side is home to the embroidered name of a freshman girl.
I received that jacket when I was fourteen years old. After two years of competing in my uncle’s jacket as a middle school student, I was thrilled to have finally earned the right to wear my own name as part of Official Dress. In that jacket, I met the person that would later become my best friend, learned to work through the nausea that overcame me whenever I had to speak in public, and represented Michigan in a national competition.
The second jacket is slightly different, with modifications marking a change in impact. The back still boasts the word “Michigan,” but rather than having the name of a town beneath the logo, the jacket states, “Region IV”. The front of the jacket also reflects this change, with the words “Region IV Secretary, 2007-2008” beneath the name on the front. The Michigan FFA Association is split into six regions, and each region has a fierce sense of pride in the factors that make it unique. Region IV is no different, and with that second jacket came a sense of pride in what was known for years as “the diverse region”.
Wearing this jacket, I had my first taste of leadership outside of my home town. Between attending trainings, planning Region IV FFA Camp, and picking on the only boy on our regional officer team, that second jacket is home to many great memories. I still remember the intense pride that I felt representing our region in that jacket, and it was that jacket that I was wearing when I ran onto the stage at the 2009 Michigan FFA State Convention when my name was announced as a newly elected State Officer.
The third and fourth jackets look the same, but represent different times in my development into who I am today.
The third jacket is the culmination of the Michigan FFA, as the space beneath the emblem on the back is home to the term “Association”. Likewise, the title under the name on the front reads “Region IV State Vice President, 2009 – 2010”. This jacket also features a chain on the right side with a charm, symbolizing a state officer’s rank and attainment of the State Degree. This jacket is a little more worn that the fourth, and is the first of two that a Michigan FFA State Officer receives during their term of service.
This jacket represents the beginning of a year full of memories. Wearing this jacket, I joined eleven other college students from around the state. Working together, we formed, normed, stormed, and learned to perform as the true definition of a team, and as a family. We travelled, presented, and represented our great state together, each knowing that we were part of something far greater than ourselves.
The fourth jacket looks just like the third, with the addition of a pin above the name on the front, and a little less wear on the creases.
This jacket appeared in my life right before the 2010 Michigan FFA State Convention, as my teammates and I prepared to give our all to over 2,500 members and guests. I was wearing the fourth jacket as I installed one of my best childhood friends as a 2010-2011 State Officer, and that same jacket when my teammates and I retired. The last time I wore that jacket was at the 2010 National FFA Convention in Indianapolis, where I walked across a stage in front of over 50,000 FFA members and national television to receive my American Degree. Later that day, I was wearing that jacket when I witnessed one of my best friends/roommate/teammate realize her ultimate goal of being elected to National Office.
One of the eternal debates in FFA is whether the jacket makes the member, or the member makes the jacket. Personally, I believe that it’s a combination of both. The jacket grants us confidence, opportunity, and a sense of belonging. However as members, we exemplify the standard of character, leadership, and progression in agriculture that the jacket represents, pushing the boundaries that define “possible”.
Celebrate National FFA Week by taking time to reflect on what this organization has given you, whether it be as a parent, member, or supporter. And please, share your experiences in the blue corduroy jacket with others.