Not many FFA members can say that they were in school during their chapter’s very first years, however those who are part of the new Shelbyville Central FFA Chapter can. Our group in Indiana was born in August 2016 with over 200 members! I was ecstatic to become a member of the best family ever, and within just my first year of FFA, my whole life has been turned upside down.
When you’re young and don’t talk quite right, it’s cute. Once you grow older and still don’t talk correctly, it’s not so cute. When I was 3 years old, I couldn’t make the -er sound. So the word summer would come out as “summa.” I was enrolled in speech therapy in my school and was placed in a special education preschool to ensure my speech issue would improve. Since it was just my -er sounds, we didn’t think much about that fact that an actual disorder could be affecting me, but little did we know. Eventually, my -er sounds were fixed, but then my speech therapist caught a more serious issue, Neurogenetic Stutter and Clutter Disorder (NSCD). Basically, I stutter and clutter when I speak, and it’s due to something in my brain and nerves.
There is no explanation as to how I gained this disorder; it just happened to tag along with me. I was in speech therapy from second grade to seventh grade trying to cure my stutter, but nothing ever worked. I eventually dropped speech therapy because I felt all hope was lost in curing me. So, I spent my three years of middle school afraid to speak. I was already bullied for the way I dressed (as a tomboy), and I just couldn’t handle any more harsh words or cyberbullying or book checking or locker slams to the hand. So, I barely spoke and it was like I didn’t have a voice at all.
I walked into my first day of sophomore year into the new ag room in Advanced Animal Science. I continued to keep my voice to myself, although I was better with using my voice thanks to having spent the previous two years in 4-H. I survived the first semester, having competed in Livestock Skillathon and Forestry. I remember walking into our January meeting and spotting papers all around the room with the Leadership Development Events on them. I contemplated on what LDE I wanted to try. Then, I saw it. Prepared Public Speaking. Was I, the girl with a severe speech disorder, really even considering a speaking event?
“Signed Julia Hamblen”
I went home and flopped down in bed and just thought, “What have I done?”
I changed my life is what I did.
There is one person who I have to acknowledge. As I waited outside the room where the Senior Prepared Public Speaking District Contest was taking place, I saw another member practicing her speech. She could tell I was nervous and came over to check on me. I explained to her that this was my very first year for me competing and for our chapter, and she gave me words of encouragement and tips before I went in. I finished first place in the district and went on to the State FFA Contest to compete. This same person helped me prepare for the state contest, and I placed fourth overall. Her name is Taylor Roy, who is currently serving as the District 8 FFA president. I cannot thank her enough for helping me through my first year of FFA and for the public speaking contests. I would not be the person I am today without her.
From here. I plan to continue my next two years in 4-H and FFA with the public speaking contests. It’s my goal to win the State FFA Contest in Prepared Public Speaking one day, but to be honest, I already feel like a winner. FFA has allowed me to break out of my shell and discover a voice that I love to use. I want to share my FFA story with as many people as possible, which I have been able to do so with my school, our city council, and our local newspaper. I would love to share my story with other organizations, and maybe even with the State 4-H and State FFA organizations one day. Until then, I will use my voice that I never knew I had and continue to share my story and hopefully share the message that no matter your circumstances, you can accomplish anything if you put your heart to it.
Julia Hamblen is a 17-year-old junior at Shelbyville High School. She is Vice President in the Shelbyville Central FFA Chapter and is heading into her fourth year of 4-H, where she shows dogs, cats, beef cattle, swine, goats, and alpacas.