At my first national FFA convention, which was also my first time in official FFA dress, I was Brandon Roop. That was the name embroidered on the right side of the borrowed jacket I wore.
Before my next official event, with permission from my advisor, Mom and I carefully snipped away the gold threads and the town’s seamstress stitched my name in place of Brandon Roop. That was my first ‘official’ FFA jacket.
Every jacket tells a story. It tells you the student’s name, under which might be inscribed a title (president, reporter, etc.) and under that a row of medals to explain the student’s honors – the highest degree earned, the highest award achieved in a career development event, and a medal representing achievement in a supervised agricultural experience. On the back, you’ll learn where the student is from – the state and chapter / school. Emblazoned on the front and back are FFA emblems. In 2013, the National FFA Organization celebrated the 80th birthday of this iconic symbol. They offered a great write-up and summary of the jacket’s storied history.
For many students, the receipt of their very first jacket is an exciting occasion. For others, receiving a jacket many years after the fact is just as special. The first year I co-managed the national FFA convention, I discovered the 1932 National FFA Vice President hanging out in the career expo. He was proudly wearing a brand new jacket purchased for him from the local chapter. His original had been lost in a flood in 1950. I took him over to the farm broadcasters booth where he spent the afternoon relating the story of his jacket to media and members.
This national FFA week, a close family friend shared the following.
“The FFA has been an important youth organization for my family over the years. Just have to start the week off with a pic of my dad’s blue jacket and road sign. The jacket has indeed lost its dark blue color over the years…and even has a few repair patches sewn into it by my grandma. Guess my dad decided to wear it as a chore coat after high school…which is actually quite fitting as he started his own future in farming. He sure loved being a farmer…and honestly believed in the future of agriculture. I am blessed that he passed on his love of agriculture, farming, and the FFA to me!”
My jackets hang in the closet, and the kids often ask about them. “Why do all those kids wear the same clothes? Why do you, Aunt Stacey and Uncle Brian talk about FFA all the time? Why do you volunteer for FFA all the time?” Often, through my own tears of happy memories, I mumble something about feeling wanted, feeling powerful, feeling part of something bigger, of something good.
One day, concerned, I’m sure, and definitely confused by his mother’s emotion, my farm boy said, “Mom you don’t need a jacket anymore to do good things.”
No. But I needed it to get here.