Interview with FFA sponsor David Holliday about the FFA national convention
When did Rock Creek attend the national convention?
Holliday: “We left on Tuesday the 19th [of October] after school. Then we went to Warrenton, Missouri, and spent the night there. Then got up and toured Monsanto in St. Louis before going on to Indianapolis on that Wednesday. And, then, we came back. We left Friday evening after the seventh session, and we came to Effingham, Illinois, spent the night there, and then we came into St. Louis, toured the Grant Farm and came the rest of the way back to school and got here about 7 o’clock Saturday night.”
Who all went to the convention from Rock Creek?
Holliday: “So, from Rock Creek, we had our officers, so [sophomore] Eva Hinrichsen, [junior] Tatum Brunkow, [senior] Grace Wilcox, [senior] Zach Havenstein, [senior] Tragan Sutton, and [sophomore] Braden [Schwarz]; [senior] Cale [Hinrichsen] was unable to go. Then, our extras we had go were [junior] Abigail Rader, Blake Disburger and [sophomore] Cameron Minihan. So a really nice group to travel with, and we had a good trip.”
Some people who went on the trip talked about the tours they took prior to the convention, where did you go and what did you guys learn?
Holliday: “The primary tour was the Monsanto tour. A friend of mine set up tour with Monsanto; you have to have security clearance do that. So, we were able to tour. They gave us four stops, talking about what Monsanto does, how it does research. And, then, we had an activity to help us talk about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) a little bit and budgeting. That was one of the highlights of the convention for me because they spend a million dollars at that campus site, and it has the most amount of growth chambers of any building in world. So, here, they are doing their research with all the different types of genetics and plants.”
Who were the keynote speakers at the convention?
Holliday: “A pretty wide variety. The keynotes that we heard while we were there was Jason Brown, who’s a former football player who quit playing football and is growing produce to give to the needy. It’s called First Fruit Farms, so they are growing Sweet Potatoes in North Carolina and giving those away to people. Then Collin [Stayton], he was a financial comedian, a financial person. His speech was about realizing how lots of people don’t know finances. So, he started out on a job that he saw as kind of a short-term job, and in doing that, he said, ‘hey there is an opportunity to do this.’ And, he has built his company through that. One of the deals was for him to face his fear of speaking in front of people. And, here he is talking in front of 60,000 people. So, I think a lot of our students related very well to him. The other speaker we didn’t go to, but we listened to on the video, was Gail Beard. She swam from the United States to Cuba without a shark protection tank; she tried it earlier in her life, and now she tried it as an older person, so that was very good. So, those were the main keynotes, then we heard the three retiring addresses from national officers. That’s one of the highlights, is the speakers are really good and getting a chance to listen to what they have to say.”
Eva Hinrichsen mentioned something about the “sessions,” so could you shed some more light on the “sessions,” like what are they exactly, and what do you do during them?
Holliday: “So, during most sessions, they’re going to have a speaker, they’re going to have some entertainment, then they’re going to presents some of the national awards. So, a session is in Banker’s Field House, which is where they Indiana Pacers play, so you know, it’s a pretty big facility. It’s going to last about two to two and a half hours for all that. Typically, they have a session in the morning, a session in the afternoon, then another one in the evening. So they had about three to four sessions a day.”
So, is everybody at the FFA convention there or is it split up?
Holliday: “It’s split up. The first session is the session that is most commonly attended, so they repeat that session three different times, and all the rest of them they just do once. So, people are able to choose what they go to.”
Some of the people that went on the trip talked about a “career fair” — was that just agriculturally based?
Holliday: “Yes, ag based. You have all the different colleges and the training they provide there. Also, there are different industry reps [representatives] from different businesses or different fields. All kinds of different suppliers there, like Ford and Chevy. International had the unmanned tractor there, so they had a prototype of what it would kind of look like. You couldn’t climb on it or anything, but this is potentially what we are working towards.”
Going back to what we talked about earlier, when Eva told me about “sessions,” she also mentioned “workshops.” What are those, and is there a difference?
Holliday: “During the convention, they have a whole range of activities. When we go we try to do a broad-based approach, so we try to encourage our students to go to at least one workshop. They had multiple student workshops going on throughout the whole week. We ask them to pick one that they would be interested in going to and go to that workshop. Some of the workshops are better than others. It’s a smaller group of about 200 to 250 in a workshop, with a smaller, more hands-on type of activities. Then, you have the career show, and the other part is the shopping mall; they have anything and everything for sale, so a lot of students went to that. So, we try to do a little bit of all those things during our time at the convention.”
How did this year’s convention compare to ones in the past?
Holliday: “This is the first year back in Indianapolis, so during my time at Rock Creek, it always used to be in Kansas City, then it moved to Louisville, then it moved to Indianapolis, then back to Louisville. So, this was the first year back in Indianapolis, and so, Indianapolis and Louisville have hosted it, and they figured out some things to try and streamline how they facilitate that. Plus, the more I’ve been there, it helps us to understand the highlights of [the city]. There was a World War II monument in Indianapolis that we went up and drove around. That’s just kind of a cool to see for students.”
Some of the travelers also talked about national officers. Are they just other high school students or college students?
Holliday: “Those are college-age students. Typically, state officers in Kansas would be like a freshman or sophomore in college. So, a national officer would probably be a sophomore or junior in college. Typically, they’re going to give up a year of schooling because they are going to travel about 300 days out of the year. So, the national officer position is a tremendous opportunity, but it’s a tremendous commitment, to set aside your schooling or whatever else you might be interested in for a year’s time.”
How are the national officers chosen?
Holliday: “Each state can have a representative to represent the state, then they go through an interview process that whole week at the national convention. So, then, they have a first cut to narrow it down to fewer people, and I forget the number on that. Then they narrow that field down, and then they spend more time with more interviews. Then Saturday at the last session, they announce the officers.”
Has anyone from Rock Creek ever applied for that?
Holliday: “Yeah, [graduate] Billy Brown. He was a state officer and applied for it, but he didn’t get out of the state of Kansas. We have not had a student get to that level yet.”
You kind of talked about this a little bit earlier, but a lot of time when groups go on trips like these, they visit other museums and do activities unrelated to what they are going for. Did you do anything like that?
Holliday: “Some of our extra stops [were] the Grant’s Farm in St. Louis. Basically, it’s an exotic animal farm by Anheuser Busch; they facilitate or run that. But, it was a nice day, and it was a good break from riding in the vehicle. I think our students had a good time there. Some of our students rode a camel and a train ride. So, it was just something fun. We all rode the carousel, and they felt a little bit silly, but at the same time, it was just fun. The other tour we had was the NCAA Hall of Fame; they really liked that.. We stopped there Thursday morning, so we went and toured that instead of going to the sessions. I think they really like that. They had a scavenger where they had to find information. And, they participated in some activities as a group. Our group enjoyed that, and we would definitely go back there sometime.”
Interview by staff member Allie Jensen
Photo courtesy of David Holliday