Courtesy of Lee Letsch, Oregon FFA
Courtesy of Kourtney Lehman
Marina Riker/For the Capital Press
REDMOND, Ore. — When 18-year-old Kourtney Lehman made the nearly five-hour trek from Baker City to Redmond for the 89th Oregon State FFA convention last week, she never imagined she would return as the organization’s state president.
“You always dream to get to this point, but it’s hard,” said Lehman. “It definitely feels like I’m in a different world right now.”
Lehman, a senior at Baker High School, was named president of the 2017-18 Oregon State FFA officer team on Monday, the final day of the convention held at Deschutes County Fair and Expo Center over the weekend of March 24-27. More than 2,000 FFA members and hundreds of other attendees, judges and sponsors flocked to the event — along with a few horses, ducks and sheep.
During the weekend, thousands of students decked out in blue-and-gold corduroy participated in events ranging from debates on hot-button agricultural topics to marketing contests. Depending on how they fared, they were hand-picked by judges to lead the organization for the next year.
“My biggest goal is just serving the members,” said Lehman. “They’re all so passionate about making a difference in their communities.”
Just minutes after Lehman was named president, her social media accounts exploded with congratulatory messages and blue-and-gold heart symbols. Even though she won the state job interview contest and placed third place in a public speaking competition earlier in the weekend, she was shocked to learn she’d been named the state’s FFA leader.
“It’s been an amazing experience,” said Lehman, whose father, brother and sister were also FFA members.
Over the next year, officers such as Lehman will be responsible for holding events including educational workshops and leadership camps, as well as governing thousands of members statewide.
Emma Rooker of the Bend FFA Chapter was selected as state vice president, while Wade Rynearson of the Union FFA Chapter was named treasurer.
Lee Wesenberg of the Sutherlin FFA Chapter was chosen as state reporter and Gaby Santa Cruz of Hood River Valley High School is sentinel.
After three long days of interviews with judges, Jensen Kemble of Ontario High School was picked for state secretary. Kemble, 17, said he was overwhelmed by the “whirlwind” that came before the announcement of the new officers — especially on Monday morning, when the judges’ votes were tallied.
“The process leading up to the announcement is very intense,” said Kemble. “It takes several minutes to calculate the votes and the entire time you just grab onto the other candidates for support and hope for the best.”
The convention’s theme was “Don’t Back Down,” a concept that was weaved into many of the weekend’s events ranging from debate challenges to marketing competitions.
On Sunday, Sevana Patrick, a senior from the Hermiston FFA Chapter, spent the entire morning preparing materials for the convention’s marketing competition finals.
The 18-year-old said her favorite part of participating in the organization is learning leadership skills and being supported by peers. After high school, she plans to enlist in the U.S. Navy, where she wants to further hone her skills as a leader and team member.
“It’s about being accepted and having that family, and having something that’s greater than yourself,” said Patrick, whose team placed third in the marketing competition.
The weekend was 18-year-old Sebastian Powers-Leach’s second time attending the FFA convention. The North Marion High School senior raises market sheep and wants to work in agriculture, but his favorite part of the FFA is competing in debate contests.
Powers-Leach and his peers were tasked with researching and debating agricultural issues that ranged from whether to label genetically modified foods to the perks of state farm-to-school food programs. Last year, the students debated immigration issues — a heated topic — in addition to less controversial ones such as whether to hold the convention at a single location each year, Powers-Leach said.
“A lot of it is opinion-based to an extent,” said Powers-Leach. “But there are others where you really need the facts to back it up with research.”