The first time Valerie Earley attended the National FFA Convention, she was in ninth grade and competing in Creed Speaking. Earley was nervous, but her two English teachers, Mrs. Derby and Mrs. Cleveland, helped her prepare and gave her the confidence to walk into the room and speak confidently in front of the judges.
While the Spring Valley, Minnesota, native ended up not placing in the top four in Creed Speaking that year, going to Nationals was the first time she had met people from all across the United States who had the same passion she was starting to have for agriculture.
“I began to see the reason behind FFA, and the unity FFA and agriculture has in every corner of our nation,” Earley said.
Now that this past National FFA Central Region Vice President has a few National Conventions under her belt, we asked Earley to share her advice for first timers as well as the more seasoned FFA members attending the upcoming National FFA Convention in Indianapolis later this month.
For the first timer attending the convention, what would be some tips you would have?
Earley: Be curious! Make a new friend from another state or another part of your state, even if it is just one. Talk to people working at the booths in the expo. Listen at session and pick out two things you want to try out when you get back to your community.
What is something during the convention that you think many FFA members may overlook that a first timer should spend time doing?
Earley: The amount of opportunities there are to start learning about all the college and career opportunities there are in agriculture. When I went to convention for the first time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do or how my talents would become my career in agriculture. I soon learned, there is a place in agriculture for every person, no matter what talents you have. Take time to talk to the people at the college and agricultural company booths. The people in the expo want to help you find your place in agriculture; they want to help you find where you will impact.
What is something you wish you would have done differently at your first convention?
Earley: If I had to change one thing about my first convention, I would make sure I had a way to continue developing the relationships I made. While competing in Creed Speaking, I met a girl from West Virginia. We sat next to each other, nervously preparing to hear our name be called as our cue that we were next to compete and recite the creed. As we waited, we began talking about what we did to prepare and what we did in FFA. It was awesome! However, I wish I would have asked for her address or phone number to keep in contact with one another. On page 96 of the guidebook there was a Convention Bucketlist, created by the National Officer team and I. The bucketlist will challenge you to meet people and stay in contact with them. You never know, you may just end up visiting them for a chapter exchange and gain a new long distance best friend!
What’s your advice to more seasoned FFA members attending?
Earley: Don’t let the incredible opportunities in front of you slip through your fingers because they look familiar. As a more seasoned FFA member, I am tempted to shrug off being engaged, listening, and growing. Be engaged while at the expo. Make new friends, talk to FFA members, college students, and agricultural professionals. Truly listen while in session. We have spent hundreds of hours creating sessions that will challenge you to grow as a leader, build your community, and make your impact in agriculture. Truly listen and go home and act. Lastly, create a few simple goals to continue growing. See a CDE that look interesting? Make a goal to create a team and compete next year. Meet an alumni who is still involved? Figure out how you can stay involved in your FFA chapter even after you graduate. Talk to an agricultural professional in the expo? Make a goal to reach out to them and set up an information interview, even if it’s over the phone or email.
Earley also asks all FFA members to consider this year’s theme when they attend the National FFA Convention.
“Our theme for [my 2017 convention was] ‘I Can. We Will.’ This convention, make it all about figuring out what ‘I can’ do when I get back,” Earley said. “You have potential to create an impact in your community. Then, figure out who will say ‘We will’ and bring people together to make that impact even larger.”