Being part of a 66,000-strong crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium created memories for some local high school students who attended the Future Farmers of America National Convention. But participating in the four-day series of meetings also left time for exploration and fun.
“There were so many different people, so alike but so different, but all with one thing in common,” said Hayden Arnold, a Hagerstown FFA member who attended. Arnold participated in a group interview with Western Wayne News about the convention, Nov. 1-4 in Indianapolis.
All told, nearly 73,000 students, advisers and guests attended. Students from three Wayne County chapters – Western Wayne, Northeastern and Hagerstown – participated.
Maggie Retherford, another HHS student, recalls the opening ceremony, when flags from all states represented were assembled on stage. But she also remembers the fun of dancing the Church Clap and Cotton Eye Joe at the mass meeting.
Convention-goers could visit many booths — from colleges and trade schools, the military and commercial vendors — in the stadium, Gainbridge Fieldhouse and in the Indianapolis Convention Center. Many stayed overnight in downtown hotels. Others came for only one day.
Seeing dolphins during a behind-the-scenes tour at Indianapolis Zoo left an impression on Avery Schmitz. She learned that the animals are “conscious breathers.” They have to think about taking breaths, unlike humans, in whom breathing is automatic. Carter Craig recalled that dolphins can live 40 years and weigh up to 500 pounds.
Arnold shared a couple of other lessons. In a visit to a koi-fish hatchery, students learned that 85% of the millions of hatchlings never make it to adulthood. But, he said, “They would have the same death rate in nature.”
He and others also got to make scented candles from soybean oil. He particularly liked one smell which he characterized as “very masculine, like men’s cologne.”
Practicing her golf at a driving range was a highlight for Brooke Stuart.
Kori Craig enjoyed a concert from country singer Lainey Wilson.
In addition to learning and enjoying themselves, the students also witnessed members receiving honors from the National FFA. The organization’s top earned award is the American Farmer Degree. Recipients from Wayne County schools include Emma Wright, a 2021 graduate from Northeastern High School; from Western Wayne, Shayna Morris, Alex Hokey and Delanie Russell; and, from Hagerstown, Kassidy Oliger and Ashlynn Oliger.
Arnold said he came away with a better understanding of what FFA does for its members. He attended a workshop exploring leadership and mentorship. Leadership could be showing by example the right thing to do, he said. Mentorship, on the other hand, is walking people through the right thing to do.
“That session helped me realize who my mentors were and who I’m mentoring now,” he said. “You can find passions in FFA. Some people have found jobs and have careers through FFA.”
A version of this article appeared in the November 22 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.