FFA convention speaks to the heart

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 5 May 2013 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – Amanda Rhodes, the state FFA president, is cheered by the state line officers after delivering a speech Saturday about the need for grace and forgiveness.

ALBION – Grace, forgiveness, living with purpose. I would expect to hear that at church, not from teen-age girls who lead the state FFA.

The three-day state FFA convention in Albion wasn’t just a big “rah-rah” fest, although there was plenty of celebration, with more than 160 students earning Empire Degrees, the highest honor an FFA student attain in New York. Many other students excelled in 26 different competitions in public speaking and technical skills.

State officers in sessions spread over three days took turns addressing more than 1,000 students in the middle school auditorium. The FFA students were impressive in their poise and purpose.

The FFA state officers avoided sugary sound bites about daring to dream, working hard and being a leader. The theme for the 88th annual convention – “It’s all heart from here” – shifted the focus away from trophies, ribbons and rank.

I attended the opening session on Thursday night and the concluding program on Saturday afternoon. The state president, Amanda Rhodes, delivered a moving speech Saturday about the need for forgiveness and grace. Rhodes told the high-achieving students to not forget we are all humans who need to give and receive compassion.

Rhodes spoke of losing her best friend about a year ago in a tragic death. She shared of her own embarrassment and shame when a former boyfriend shared private pictures of her.

“Letting a mistake take hold of you can destroy you,” said Rhodes from the Belleville-Henderson FFA.

She needed to forgive herself, and accept grace from her teachers and family. After her speech, the other state officers ran onto the stage and hugged Rhodes, who wiped away tears.

Lindsey Anderson, vice president of the FFA National Western Region, address 1,100 FFA students Saturday in Albion.

Paige Levandowski of Albion served as vice president of the 4,000-member state FFA this year. She addressed the convention during the opening session on Thursday and told more than 1,000 people to not let distractions get in the way of being fully present in their lives.

Levandowski talked about Nick Kovaleski, a 15-year-old from Albion who died from leukemia two years ago. Nick was a star athlete, an altar server and a loving friend. Many community members continue to wear “Live with Purpose” T-shirts and bracelets in Nick’s honor. A “Live with Purpose” scholarship has been established in Nick’s honor.

“Nick had an ability to motivate others to use their gifts and ‘Live with Purpose,’” Levandowski told the FFA students across the state. “Be like Nick. Live lives with purpose.”

Other speakers talked about overcoming adversity. Lyndsey Anderson, the vice president of National FFA in the Western Region, lives in the central valley in California. She led workshops for students during the convention and delivered a keynote speech Saturday.

“Make your obstacles small and your opportunities big,” she told the group.

The FFA students did most of the talking during the convention, but a professional motivational speaker kicked off the convention’s opening session. Ben Glenn, a motivation speaker and chalk artist from Indianapolis, shared about moving past the “uglies,” the unexpected hardships in life.

Glenn created a beautiful landscape drawing for the crowd, and then drew dark lines across it, marring the painting. Some of the students gasped and yelled at Glenn for ruining the artwork.

He then made the dark lines blend into the picture, making it look even better than before.

“When bad things happen, we have to keep moving forward,” Glenn said.