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  1. In her video farewell speech, Pennsylvania FFA President Timber Thebes encouraged her fellow FFA members to live in a judgment-free zone, a message that resonates loudly in current times.

“Hold back on your judgment toward others,” Thebes said, encouraging FFA members to not let judgment and negativity stop them from making their mark.

Her virtual speech concluded with a thank you to the state FFA organization and its members.

“I would not be who I am today without the influence from each of you,” she said during the livestream.

In the past, Pennsylvania FFA has offered livestreams of its in-person State Convention, held each June at Penn State University.

But with large gatherings still out of the question because of the coronavirus, this year’s convention, the 91st, was the first to be conducted completely online.

The state officer team livestreamed sessions on YouTube at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. from Monday to Thursday, and held fun activities at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Along the way, slideshows recognized seniors and award winners, and Gov. Tom Wolf and Ag Secretary Russell Redding offered video salutations.

During the traditional opening ceremony, in which the officers relate their roles to parts of the FFA emblem, the scene switched from officer to officer as they gave their lines.

All of the officers spoke in front of a gray background, looking into the camera.

In a prerecorded address, Mamie Hertel, the National FFA Organization’s central region vice president, acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted FFA members’ lives this year — Pennsylvania schools have been closed since March 16 — but she encouraged members to pursue their dreams anyway.

“Right now, we are all sitting at home thinking that this is just a time to get through. But this is a time to do more,” said Hertel, of Montana.

Hertel also told how she had made a friend by not responding angrily to a confrontational girl but by asking her why she thought as she did.

“We live in a world where it is so polarized, and we think it’s this way or no way, but to be honest, we have something to learn from every single person we encounter,” Hertel said.

The story underscored the National FFA Organization’s emphasis on inclusiveness the week after one of Hertel’s fellow national officers was removed for insensitive comments he had made in old social media posts. Hertel’s video was likely recorded before last week’s announcement.

On Monday, State Sentinel Arilyn Oatman presented a video interview she had conducted with one of her heroes, livestock researcher Temple Grandin.

With this year’s state FFA theme being “Make Your Mark,” Oatman asked Grandin how she was able to make her mark in the ag industry.

Grandin said it wasn’t easy to be a woman working in the cattle industry in the 1970s, but she worked hard and learned skills that made her stand out.

“One of the things I had to do is make myself really good at what I do,” Grandin said.

That included becoming a strong writer, not so different from the speaking and leadership skills young people might learn while wearing a blue jacket.

“I’ve seen a lot of students really develop confidence and skills in FFA,” Grandin said.

As they prepared to digitally pass the torch to a new set of state officers on Friday, each of the seven state officers gave a short goodbye speech.

In a speech entitled “Be Little,” Treasurer Killiann George explained how she tried to think of a big moment to talk about, but couldn’t come up with one.

“It wasn’t one single moment that made up this year,” George said, “but instead, lots of little moments that made up the memories.”

One of her favorite little moments came as she and her fellow officers were sorting T-shirts at the state Department of Agriculture building.

An employee with her two young sons came in the room to borrow a cellphone. The officers took some time to talk to the young boys and ended up giving them FFA T-shirts. George said one of the boys was so happy that he said he wanted to be in FFA when he grew up. That moment, she said, was “a small action for a big impact.”

George acknowledged that current FFA students never expected to be watching this year’s convention virtually, but she encouraged them not to be disappointed.

“Enjoy the little moments,” George said, “because one day, we’re going to look back and realize they were really big things.”

Regional Editor

Stephanie Speicher is the regional editor at Lancaster Farming. She can be reached at sspeicher@lancasterfarming.com or 717-721-4457.

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