By Jim Massey
The notion that she will do whatever it takes to keep her FFA experience alive is nothing new to Amelia Hayden.
Hayden, who in June completed a year as state FFA president, is Wisconsin’s 2019-20 National FFA officer candidate. She and 43 other young people from across the country have been selected to represent their states in competition to be one of six officers who lead the national organization during the next year. The six officers — a president, secretary and four regional vice presidents — will be named during the National FFA Convention’s final session on Nov. 2.
Ready to lead
“After working with FFA members across Wisconsin the last two years, I loved every single experience, every single chance to put on a workshop or give a speech or have a conversation,” Hayden says. “I didn’t want it to stop. Serving as a national officer would be another way to continue serving.”
Hayden had that same feeling two years ago, when at age 16, she graduated from Big Foot High School and opted to continue her FFA career by running for a state office. She was successful in that endeavor, serving a year as a state FFA vice president before being elected president in 2018.
Hayden was a young state president — elected at age 17 — and will be a young national officer candidate at 18. She skipped first grade and eighth grade and graduated from high school at age 16.
Despite being relatively young, this is Hayden’s final opportunity to run for national office because of the rules that govern FFA. Involvement in FFA is based on the year the student graduates from high school, not the student’s age.
Cheryl Zimmerman, Wisconsin FFA executive director, believes Hayden is more than ready to lead at the next level despite her age.
“Amelia was an outstanding state officer, and it was a real pleasure to work with her,” Zimmerman says. “She was one of my youngest state officers and state president, but she has always been a high achiever.
“The experiences she’s had through FFA and the accomplishments that young woman has had have been amazing. Running for national officer is a very intense process, but we are wishing her the very best. We think she’s going to do a great job representing Wisconsin.”
Hayden has been working hard to prepare for the national competition, working with coaches and mentors and sharpening her FFA knowledge. The six national officers will be selected after nearly a week of interviews in Indianapolis.
“Everyone is definitely going to have the best-of-best cream-of-crop leadership and communication skills,” she says of the 44 national officer candidates.
Hayden says it would be an “incredible journey” if she is given the opportunity to be one of the six national FFA officers.
“The thing that would stand out would be the opportunity to interact with FFA members across the nation,” she says. “While working with FFA members across Wisconsin the past two years, I saw their work ethic, character and leadership skills. To see that reflected in 49 other states would be really cool.
“Serving as a state officer and state president has been an unforgettable experience. When I went to different community events, meeting all the people was really the best thing for me. I was able to create a lot of memories.”
Hayden, a sophomore at University of Wisconsin-Madison majoring in microbiology, plans to take a year off of college if she becomes a national officer. The officers travel for more than 300 days out of the year, so it would be virtually impossible to keep up on studies while on the road that much.
Wisconsin’s last National FFA officer was Alicia Hodnik, also a Big Foot High School graduate, in 2011-12.
Besides intensive interviews as a national officer candidate, Hayden will also have other business to attend to while at the national convention. She is a finalist for the American Star in Agriscience award, so she will join three other candidates in that competition while in Indianapolis.
Hayden is Wisconsin’s only Star finalist. There are four finalists in each of four categories, including Agriscience, Star Farmer, Agribusiness and Agricultural Placement.
Agriscience has been Hayden’s interest since even before she joined FFA as a high school freshman. Her supervised agricultural experience program (SAE) while in high school focused on animal nutrition and peanut allergies. She was the state Star in Agriscience award winner in 2017 and will now take her project to the next level at the national convention.
Hayden used the skills gained in her high school research to get a job in a UW-Madison laboratory, where she is adding compounds to infected cell cultures to see if those compounds can help fight infections.
She hopes to work in agricultural research after graduating from UW-Madison.
“As I’m taking college classes, I’ll see what really interests me,” she says. “I’m getting a wide depth of knowledge so I can be successful in any area of agriculture. There are a lot of science classes in my future, that’s for sure.”
Hayden says she will prepare as well as she can for the agriscience competition she will face at the national convention.
“I’ll leave everything in the interview room and see how it goes,” she says.
The four Star winners will be announced during an onstage ceremony on Nov. 1.
Hayden is the daughter of Edward and Claire Hayden of Sharon. Edward is a school social worker while Claire works in early childhood education. Hayden’s high school FFA advisor was Lisa Konkel.
Massey writes from Barneveld, Wis.