State FFA President Garrett Lister presented his retiring address, "Roads" during the closing session of the 82nd Kansas FFA Convention.
It’s a warm summer day, heading down the road, just me and my truck, windows down, a Garth Brooks CD playing and a bag of sunflower seeds in my cup holder. Free to go down any road I choose to arrive at any destination, there is no limit to where I can go when I have a full tank of gas and a key in the ignition. I remember spending the early years of my life dreaming of the day that I would get my license and be free to hit that open road. When I first learned to drive, it was short trips down gravel roads where there was no traffic; just trying to make sure I had control of the vehicle. Later, I grew in my abilities, I was able to control the truck, had learned how to use my blinkers and even the windshield wipers on rainy days. I was able to drive down the brick streets of my home town. Finally, after learning the lessons these streets had to offer, I was ready to begin driving on the highways to show off my skills to the world. Each of us is learning something similar to this. We may not be physically driving down any road, or working to obtain any license, but progressing toward an end goal, building our character, and in so doing determining where our lives will end up. Our choices steer us down many different roads, and in many directions and in the end determine our character. To build our character we must take the time to build a solid foundation, grow to reach our potential and give back. If we take the right turns, and the right roads we will build a good character to be good people and make a difference.
The lessons learned on the gravel roads of our home towns lay the foundation for our driving experience. Likewise, the foundation on which we build our lives must be built before we can get far. When I was four years old, my family bought a few heifers to start a herd. I distinctly remember a brockle-faced heifer with the number 4 ear tag. This heifer was mine, the first animal I had ever owned. This was the point from which my experience raising, showing and learning about livestock began. However, after I had my heifer I soon realized there was one major problem. She was living at my Grandma Lister’s where, although she was being taken great care of, I was sure she was waiting anxiously to come to Marysville and live closer to me. But the pasture was not ready, there was no shed for us to store hay or keep our equipment, there was no lane so we could drive in and of course the most important detail, this pasture, a stone’s throw from Highway 36, had no fence. So the preparation began, we (and by we I mean my dad and his friends with my four year old supervision) began to build. We spent what seemed like months raising a small tin shed, pouring the gravel to become the lane and of course, building a fence. I did not want to wait for my heifer, but I learned that I could not move on to that stage until the proper foundation was built.
All successful structures require a strong foundation. Before we can make a difference in the world we must determine our direction by building a foundation in faith, family, knowledge and community. Take time to learn build your foundation. Learn about yourself, find the things you love, the people that support you and the beliefs that you build your life on. Reflect on what in your life is important to you. What is it that you think of first thing in the morning and reflect on before you go to bed? Is it an activity, a group of people, a subject you love to learn about or a cause that you believe in? Your foundation is comprised of what you believe in and what you stand up for. As you leave here today, think of someone that you admire. What have they built their life upon? What can you learn from their life to apply to building your own foundation? Having a solid foundation is a good start, but it alone is not enough for our character to take us far in life. We must also grow to be able to take action in our lives.
One of the many things I enjoy is running. I love going out for a jog and seeing how fast I can go. Because of my love for running, I decided that Cross Country would be a good sport for me to try in high school. Most of you are probably thinking, now how hard can cross country be? And like many of you I also went in to it thinking it would be a piece of cake. No plays to memorize, no one playing defense trying to stop you and no scoreboard to worry about; you just run, that’s it. I quickly discovered that there was much more to it than that. I soon found out that cross country was a sport of extensive preparation, near vertical inclines, and grueling distance. It’s 3.1 miles of white chalk that turn not only every runner, but time itself into your competitors; that makes you realize that what once seemed like a great place to play golf is actually a god-forsaken course on which the strength and talent of athletes are revealed under the harshest of circumstances. Weeks before the first race, runners begin training in preparation for this. It is not uncommon for runners to run upwards of five miles each afternoon in 100 degree weather. Other days are spent on the track, doing countless sprints or in a weight room doing intense lower body workouts. Even activities like a trip to the pool that have been fun for years, turn in to a workout as the runners push themselves to get in better shape. A good runner pushes themselves to their limits on the streets so that they can compete at their highest level on race course. Over my two years of Cross Country, I pushed myself to my limits constantly, and I watched myself grow faster and build endurance. I was experiencing success I had never thought was possible. Having a foundation is only a start. Just like cross country runners go through intense preparation before they run a race, each of us have to realize that we need training, growth, to improve ourselves before we can improve the world around us. Strive to do work today that stretches you, pushes you to do more than you feel comfortable with, so that you are ready for whatever tomorrow throws at you. What areas can you improve in? If you are a livestock judger, maybe it’s oral reasons. If you have dreams of being named state star maybe it’s building upon your Supervised Agricultural Experience. Maybe it’s getting better grades so you can prepare for college or a career. Or maybe it’s something as simple as being a good brother or sister, son or daughter and one day mother or father. What can you do today to develop yourself so that you can reach your potential in the future? Volunteer to get more involved in your chapter. Find a job or start your own business to learn lessons from the real world. Study harder so you can learn more and get better grades. Devote more time to prayer and reading scriptures to grow stronger in your faith. Whatever it is that you do, working to grow into your full potential is key in building character and letting it carry you far in life. Focus on growth daily in multiple aspects of your life. Pick an area that you want to grow, maybe it is in your ability to study, or an FFA skill, or maybe your relationship to your family. Do something each day to grow in your ability and improve.
Once we have built a foundation and grown in our potential we must give back in order for our character to take us far in life. There are many historical figures I admire, from Washington to Reagan there are countless men and women who have worked for the betterment of our world. However my favorite is one you might have never heard of. His name is Dr. Norman Borlaug. Dr. Borlaug was an agronomist, his job was to scientifically study crops that produce our food, and he was among the best at what he did. He was well educated, at a time when his scientific knowledge was extremely valuable to the industry. He had everything he needed, the education, the job, the potential, he was on a fast track to wealth, importance and fame. However, Dr. Borlaug had other plans. He walked away from an offer to double his salary, he temporarily left his young family, and went to Mexico to be in charge of a program to increase grain production. From here, Borlaug never looked back. He lived a life of action and service to others. After he finished his time in Mexico developing plants with better disease resistance and improving production methods, he moved on to India and Africa to do work that ended massive food shortages and saved lives. For his lifetime of work he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Borlaug knew what his core beliefs were, and took time to develop himself; but he also took these lessons and sought to make a difference for others. Our world is in need of another generation ready to take their knowledge and experiences to its highways. Be the leaders of our nation. Find Your role in bringing about the brighter future toward which Dr. Borlaug spent his life advancing. Help solve some of the major problems of this world. Work toward bringing an end to world hunger, finding a cure for cancer, helping those living in poverty and other issues by doing something as big as devoting your life to a career in agriculture, or something as small as donating to your local food pantry, organizing a new community service project for your chapter or just stepping up to fill a need you see around you. Regardless of what action you choose to take, DO SOMETHING. Character can guide us through life but it can’t do anything from the couch, we need to take action or our character is useless. By putting on that blue jacket, we have chosen to play a role in solving these problems. There are 500,000 members who have the same commitment to service as you. We have the opportunity to be the young men and women that will lead this world forward to a brighter day. Focus on our character, for that is what we will be driven by throughout our journey. Character will be what allows us to meet the challenges that will come to our generation.
Just like many of us learned the basics of driving on a gravel road, we must go to the gravel roads to build our foundation by finding out what we believe in. We continue this process growing stronger just like we improved our skills on the brick streets by constantly pushing ourselves to improve. Finally, we complete the cycle of character by not keeping what we have gained for ourselves, but giving to others on the highways of the world. When this process is completed, over and over again, it directs our journey toward a life of service, achievement and success. It allows us to reach our full potential. The roads of life are stretched out before us. Build your character and let it be your map to guide you on your journey. The future belongs to us. We will shape the world for the generations to come.
Kansas FFA let your character guide you down all of life’s roads!