The FFA jacket is a nationally recognized symbol, announcing “farm kid” to anyone who sees it; but also showing the idea of hard work. The FFA creed states, “I believe in my own ability to work efficiently and think clearly, with such knowledge and skill as I can secure,”encouraging high school students to develop life skills they can bring into the real world, building the skills that create a hard, effective worker, whether in a job or a church or in life. This line not only encompases my FFA experience, but has also been applied to every aspect of my life. In Colossians 3:23-25, the Bible emphasises this idea as well, saying, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”

Many people throughout high school have embodied these ideas, teaching me just what it means to work hard, but some of these people have stood out. Math has never been a strong subject for me, so as a freshman, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to more math. So I showed up to my first hour math class knowing I would absolutely hate every moment of this. I realized very quickly my ideas had been wrong, when I met my math teacher, Mrs. Kaemingk. Over and over she showed her human side, unlike many teachers; whether it was her asking how you were doing, and expecting a real and honest answer, or making a mistake like the day she stuck her hand into her coffee mug instead of the cup where she had everyone’s name, she showed that there is nothing wrong with being human and making mistakes. Over the span of five semesters of math in her classroom, she never once raised her voice, and somehow held the respect of countless unruly high school boys. She embodied a gentle leader, an example I later learned from her.

Outside the classroom, another person had a great impact on my life as well. Throughout high school, he taught me more than any classes I attended, both academically and in life skills. Dr. Jacob Steiger offered me a position on the veterinary science FFA team as a freshman, and let me stick around through high school. Through four years, he has taught me so much more than what a cannula is. The first lesson was to see the potential in people, and to encourage them in it. Over and over he’s taken the quiet, shy kid of the group and turned them slowly into a leader within the group, seeing the potential they have in them. Secondly, he showed the power of mentoring people, whether they were aware or not, taking kids under his wing and leading them through his examples and encouragement.

This past year, I was blessed with the opportunity to take on a position of leadership in my youth group. I’ve always considered myself more of a quiet follower, so accepting this was a big risk for me, but with the influences these two left on me, I found myself slowly growing as a leader and realizing just how much I’d learned as I worked to develop the skills they taught me.

Like many high school kids, extracurricular activities have also played a large role in my life. Back in middle school, I’d showed up for cross country, intrigued by the idea of a sport I knew little about. I found out pretty fast I enjoyed the sport and was better than I’d expected to be. So going into highschool I gave up soccer, a sport I’d played since kindergarten, to keep doing cross country. From this sport, I made many precious memories and friends, and learned many lessons. One of the most important things I learned was perseverance, being able to push through no matter what. Even the best runners have to learn to persevere, facing injuries and disappointing seasons. Throughout the course of high school, I dealt with an injured achilles, learning how to work through hard times.

Cross Country is an individual sport, where each person competes to make themselves better and to qualify for post-season. While there is a team score as well, often the emphasis is on the individual in the sport. An aspect of cross country that many other individual sports lack is the teamwork. The opportunity to compete focusing on only yourself is there and easy to follow, but each year I have seen people put their own ambitions aside to help their teammates improve, even when it will not benefit them. Our team often got together over the summer and ran together, pushing each other to train harder, and becoming close friends and support, as well as spending evenings together playing games, eating, and just having fun together. This bond created an aspect of teamwork when we all stood with our toe on the starting line, cheering for each other, pacing each other, and helping everyone make their own goals.

Extracurricular activities for me encompassed far more than just sports. I enjoyed cross country as well as track through high school, but I also found myself involved in many other activities. I joined FFA as a freshman, first as part of the veterinary science team, then I took on showing beef cattle, and only got more involved from there, and as a junior and senior, holding the role of vice president. FFA also taught me many lessons. First, it taught me dedication. Countless hours are required to compete in something as competitive as the state convention in veterinary science. As a freshman, I went in a bit unprepared, and while my team did well, I realized that even though I’d worked hard, I had not dedicated myself towards it. Now, four years later, I have competed 3 more times in this, continuing to work to learn more and do better. Showing cattle takes dedication as well. From raising cattle, to breaking them, to showing them, time and hard work are required, no matter how little you feel like doing it. Another lesson FFA taught me was that no one is ever done learning. From watching adults who have been involved in my life through FFA, I realized even they are still learning. No matter how many times I show or meetings I attend, each time I learn something new, whether about me, my cattle, or veterinary medicine.

As freshman, we were asked to take a test to determine our strengths. For some people, these strengths showed them how to act, but for me, they showed up through what I did. My five strengths are: Empathy, deliberative, individualization, input, and context. Many of these are very similar to each other; empathy and individualization both refer to interactions with other people, focusing on understanding each unique people, their emotions, and how they can best work with others. Context and input both have to do with knowledge, both wanting to learn more to improve. Deliberative focuses on the ability to make important choices and to see all sides of a situation. In my interactions with people, especially as a leader within my youth group, I see both empathy and individualization in how I interact with the other students, while I see context and input in my school work as well as in my FFA experiences, always pushing to learn more to broaden what I know. Deliberativeness became especially apparent to me as I was trying to decide where to attend college, as I laid out my options before myself to weigh which would be the most beneficial; and so, after hours of prayer, I felt confident in my decision to attend Montana State University.

Through my high school experience, I have learned how to work hard, using the successes from this ability to the glory of God, knowing that without his plan, I would not have been in the places to learn what I have. From school work to extracurricular activities to people who have influenced me, I have gathered skills to enable myself to follow through with this idea. A hard worker portrays not only the skills to work, but the ability to make mistakes, persevere, be dedicated, and learn. In dealing with other people they can be a gentle leader, see potential in everyone and be willing to mentor them to that potential, and be able to work as a team. Hard work is a lifelong skill that is far more complex than it appears, something the FFA jacket has come to embody throughout it’s history.