TWIN Falls, Idaho — About 1,500 Idaho FFA members swarmed the campus of the College of Southern Idaho for the annual State Leadership Conference, and the school’s gymnasium was packed Thursday afternoon to hear keynote speaker Ray Starling.
An FFA alumnus and past national FFA vice president, Starling holds a high position in the Trump administration as assistant to the president for agriculture, trade and food assistance in the National Economic Council.
He shared his enthusiasm for FFA and his pleasure to be back among the FFA family at the conference, delighting members with his with blue-jacket humor.
For example, he said, you might be at an FFA conference if the crowd waiting to open the door is larger than the crowd trying to come through the door.
His message, however, was how FFA prepared him for every position and success in his career.
Before his White House appointment, Starling was chief of staff, chief general counsel and senior policy adviser for U.S. Sen. Tom Tillis, R-N.C. He also was general counsel for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and has experience in private practice.
“Twenty-three years ago, I sat where you are sitting now,” he told FFA members.
His FFA experiences are memorable, just like Idaho FFA members’ experiences are today. But back then, he had little grasp of “how significant the organization is and the influence it can have on your life,” he said.
Throughout his career, he’s faced many challenges. But every one of them came easier to him than they might have to someone else because of FFA, he said.
Doing something different is hard, and he had to do something different in each new position along the way. But whether it was litigating on behalf of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture or advocating for agricultural policy in the Legislature, he felt he had been in those situations before because of the experiences he had in FFA, he said.
“I had done that before. … I felt I had the home-field advantage because I had been in FFA,” he said.
In his position of helping President Trump develop policy that moves the agricultural economy forward, he feels “right at home because I had been in FFA and had been there before,” he said.
As one can imagine, meeting with the president and USDA secretary in the oval office is not a calm and casual experience, he said.
“But it’s not as hard as it sounds to someone who came up in FFA,” he said.
Whether it’s speaking to a roomful of strangers or people in position or advocating for agriculture, FFA has prepared him with the skills and confidence to succeed.
“In your life, you will have phenomenal opportunities for great experiences … because you were blue and gold,” he said.
“You will be in positions where you’re called to lead, and you will be able to because you were in FFA, he said.