After nearly two years of meeting virtually, FFA students Katie Price and Kylie Baldwin are excited to attend their organization’s national convention in person this fall.
While some recent district-level activities have been held in person, the two Oregon state officers have grown accustomed to online events and discussions, having been elected in a fully virtual state conference last spring. The previous state meet, in 2020, was cancelled entirely.
“For us, we were super lucky because a lot of events weren’t really cancelled; just the first one,” said Baldwin, an FFA state reporter from Redmond, Ore. “Our career development and all of our competitions were virtual events over a screen.”
The online functions still gave members a sense that they were part of a movement that is “bigger than ourselves,” said Price, a state sentinel from Sutherlin, Ore. Meeting members from other areas online “made our world a little bigger as well,” she said.
Baldwin and Price are scheduled to be two of hundreds of FFA students from across the U.S. to attend the 94th National FFA Convention and Expo on Oct. 27-30 in Indianapolis. The event will include general sessions, competitive events, an expo and more, according to the event’s website.
People also can access live streams of the sessions, a virtual “Blue Room,” on-demand workshops and a National Days of Service project in their own communities. Preliminary competitions were held virtually, while the top 50 in each category will go to Indianapolis, Baldwin said.
The convention was virtual-only in 2020, with organizers citing COVID-19-related travel restrictions and public health concerns for not meeting in person.
“More students than ever got a taste of what it’s like to be at convention,” national FFA convention coordinator Mandy Hazlett said in a recent blog post. “We discovered we can easily connect with members even if they aren’t present.”
With most areas of the U.S. restricting public gatherings in the months following the coronavirus outbreak, members became accustomed to using computer screens for their discussions and competitions. In Oregon, a nominating committee chose the state’s officers in 2020, while this year’s team was picked by delegates from throughout the state.
Some students with animal projects had to sell their animals early when the pandemic hit, but many communities held online auctions or fundraisers to support the students.
“The amount of support we’ve seen throughout the country has really been blowing us away,” Price said. “It’s been cool to see communities support their members just as well as they would normally.”
The Oregon FFA’s first major in-person event was a career-development competition this spring, which was also streamed for students who couldn’t attend, Price said. All the organization’s in-person events are also available online, she said.
“It’s something we’re considering keeping in the future, but we’re not sure,” Baldwin said. “We’re still kind of riding the wave.”
Many districts are eager to be back in person, Price said. For instance, all the districts in Oregon are holding live leadership camps, she said. “So we’re going to all the 11 districts and spending time with local officers,” Baldwin added.
Both students say the pandemic has increased FFA members’ sense of camaraderie and resiliency.
“All of us have gone through this whole process of COVID together,” Price said. “We all want to get back in person so that we’re all working together.”
“I think the pandemic has been a call for leadership,” Baldwin said. “It’s been a call to students whether they’re leaders in their own lives or larger.”
Both Price and Baldwin graduated from high school this year, and they both plan to attend college after their 2021-22 state office tenures have ended – Price studying children’s psychology and Baldwin pursuing agriculture education or communications, they said. They’re waiting for some of the pandemic’s uncertainties to wane before they decide where to attend, they said.
“What COVID has taught us is to keep our options open,” Baldwin said.
“One thing we’ve learned is that everything happens for a reason,” Price said. “Wherever we end up, that’s where we’re supposed to be. There’s a lot of peace in that as well.”