Growing up in a rural farm town, agriculture was literally in DeShawn Blanding’s front yard. But being a generation removed from agriculture, the National FFA Southern Region Vice President found himself having several misconceptions about the ag industry.
“Entering high school, I dreamed of being an oncologist,” Blanding said. “As I began to matriculate through the agricultural education program, I gained a deep respect for and recognized the importance of agriculture and agricultural diversity.”
Agricultural education wasn’t the only program that piqued Blanding’s interest. After watching his big brother excel in FFA, Blanding knew it was the place for him.
“I made sure to sign up for my first ag class and paid my FFA dues,” Blanding said. “I bought my own blue corduroy jacket and the rest is history.”
Blanding holds a decorated history in the association. Prior to being elected to the 2016-17 National Officer Team at the 89th National FFA Convention & Expo, Blanding served as the South Carolina State FFA Vice President (2014-15), and President of the Manning FFA Chapter (2012-13 and 2013-14).
Even though Blanding took on a national position and moved away to North Carolina A&T State University to pursue a natural resources engineering degree, he hasn’t forgotten about his South Carolina roots. He said he has two takeaways from his time in South Carolina FFA:
- Your years of service continue after the blue jacket. Numerous past state officers and members have been a big inspiration to him and helped him find him place in the organization, while also demonstrating how to remain an integral part at the chapter and state level.
- Diversity is key in communication. As a state officer, he was able to meet members all across the state and see the diversity, both culturally and geographically.
“We are truly a state of southern hospitality. My team was filled with some of sweetest and most caring human beings I have ever met,” Blanding said. “SCFFA just cares for others and makes them a part of the family. It’s just in our nature.”
After moving to North Carolina for college, Blanding thought his FFA journey was over.
“Little did I know, the FFA is forever a part of me and a new journey within the FFA had begun… a journey of advocacy. Conversing with friends, I would find myself unintentionally explaining my FFA experience, and being the leadership driven person that I am, I tried to find my new FFA, a new organization that I could dedicate myself to just as I did in high school,” Blanding said. “The truth recently hit me that there is no running from this organization, and why would I want to? Excluding my church and family, the FFA has made the largest impact in my life.”
His time in the National FFA hasn’t just been a resume builder of strong agvocating; it’s also been a journey in finding his true identity.
From personality assessments and self-reflection to being alone on the road, Blanding said he has learned more about himself than he ever imagined.
“One of our missions as a youth organization is personal growth. I have truly seen myself grow exponentially in the past six years and feel blessed to see that growth continue,” Blanding said. “I have learned how to be a better agricultural advocate, how to use my talents and personality to be a better leader, and how to be a better communicator and motivator.”
Considering running for National Office this year? Blanding has three tips:
- Realize life outside of the blue jacket. As FFA members, we become immersed in the “FFA world” that we often don’t see life outside of the blue jacket. One of our main jobs as national officers is to be an advocate to those familiar and unfamiliar with the industry.
- Know who you are. During the process for running, the nominating committee want to see you. As national officers, we help students find themselves. In order to do so, you must know who you are.
- BE YOU! This was the advice past national officers beat into me repeatedly. We often try to fit this mold of what a national officer is supposed to be, but authenticity is what members (and the nominating committee) desire to see.
“Prior to taking my first agricultural class, I did not understand the importance and value of the industry. Throughout the past six years, I have been able to learn not only its importance, but how I can play a role in providing food, fuel, and fiber to our people,” Blanding said. “In our organization, we encourage members to tell their story and this year I have been given the canvas to illustrate mine in hopes to inspire others to do the same.”