The air outside is getting ever warmer, the days are getting longer, and the state officers are getting ever busier. Preparation for the 86th Indiana FFA State Convention is fully underway and the to do lists could probably stretch from here in Trafalgar to New Mexico. However busy this time of year may be though, it is an incredible time of year, and one of the chief reasons is because this is banquet season. March, April, and May are when the bulk of chapter banquets happen across the state, and my teammates and I are fortunate enough to be invited to many of them.
Just last night I attended my sixth banquet, which marked the halfway point. As of now, I have given my speech several times, and been able to visit chapters all across the state. And it is as I reflect on those banquets I have already attended that the real magnitude of this opportunity becomes evident. Attending banquets is so much more than just delivering a speech. For me at least, it offers a genuine insight into not just the chapters, but the communities.
At the majority of the chapters I have visited I delivered a thirteen minute speech about how anyone can make change happen. I love this opportunity because delivering speeches is a real passion of mine. I have learned that every audience is different, and that you can never guess what they’re reaction to your speech is going to be. As a speaker, sometimes you’ll get up there with all the enthusiasm and gusto in the world; you’ll deliver your punchlines with precision, and when you expect the audience to erupt in laughter—they will sit there quietly and politely nodding their heads. Other times, however, you will simply be giving exposition on a story and make a clever remark as an aside, and it will send the audience into a bout of rolling thunderous laughter. Meanwhile, you will be standing at the front of the room wondering why on Earth that was so funny. In my travels I have found the unpredictability of audiences to be one of the greatest sources of excitement. Every time I prepare to take the microphone, I have no idea what will happen in the next fifteen or so minutes. But to me, that is fantastically thrilling. And each time I take the microphone, I can only hope that it will be one of those speeches when the audience laughs at all the right times, and I can visibly see them feeling the emotions I'm attempting to portray to them, and when I bring it all together for my conclusion I can see the dots connecting in their minds as the smiles spread across their faces. Those are magical moments. I have found no greater sense of wholeness in my life than when an audience is applauding after a speech like that.
It would be an injustice, however, if I let you all believe that the only enjoyable part of banquets was speaking. There is obviously the food, which has been wonderful everywhere I’ve been so far. But more importantly, there is the fellowship. Banquets are a celebration among FFA members and community members. They are a mirthful and jovial evening of reflection on the year that has past, and an optimistic look forward to the year to come. The state officers attend most banquets as guests, and more often than not we know only a few other people there. Sometimes, we don’t know a single person there. Again, this is scary but equally exciting. I always enjoy this experience, because as a guest at banquets I get to peer through a window into the culture of the chapter and the community. Watching the officers one can observe how their team dynamics work. I get to see the relationship students have with their advisors and their supporters. I witness the inside jokes and stories that each chapter has, and often as an audience member they make no sense to me, but I laugh along anyway. I always enjoy this opportunity to witness how the makeup of each and every FFA chapter is different. Yet I am always struck by the things that make them similar—the passion, the pride, the support, and the hard work.
Attending banquets has been a truly inspiring experience so far, and I cannot wait to continue the journey in the coming weeks.
Indiana FFA State Southern Region Vice President