National FFA Officer team includes two reps from the West

The 2018-19 National FFA Officer team. From left are Luke O'Leary, president, California; Layni LeBlanc, secretary, Louisiana; Shea Booster, Western region vice president, Oregon; Jordan Stowe, Southern region vice president, Alabama; Ridge Hughbanks, Central region vice president, Oklahoma; and Adrian Schunk, Eastern region vice president, Michigan.

Growing up in Bend, Ore., Shea Booster was such a chatty kid he earned himself the nickname “motormouth.”

“I was never shy,” Booster said. “Every time I met someone new, I just loved to talk to them.”

That outgoing personality is part of what led Booster to join FFA as a freshman at Mountain View High School, and later serve as Oregon FFA state president in 2016-17. On Oct. 27, Booster was one of six leaders elected to the National FFA Officer team during the organization’s annual convention in Indianapolis, as the western region vice president.

Over the next year, Booster, 21, will spend more than 300 days traveling across the country and overseas to Japan, speaking to local FFA chapters, farmers and legislators and spreading the good word about agriculture education. He couldn’t have asked for a more perfect gig.

“I’m super excited,” Booster said. “It still hasn’t really sank in yet.”

Booster is not a traditional FFA student. He was not raised on a farm or ranch. He didn’t spend summers milking cows or driving combine. But that is the beauty of FFA, he said — in 1988, the “Future Farmers of America” officially changed its name to the National FFA Organization, reflecting its goal to be accepting and inclusive to all youth.

Today, the National FFA Organization has nearly 670,000 members in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, with local chapters in 24 of the 25 largest U.S. cities.

“The FFA has been a highly diversifying and inclusive organization,” Booster said. “It has always made that a priority.”

Back in high school, Booster said FFA was the one place where he felt he could truly be himself. He took immediately to the group, making it a personal rule of thumb to try a new career development event every year.

“I was the agriculture rookie,” he said. “Any time I had the opportunity to try something new, I would.”

Booster graduated from Mountain View in 2016, and is now a sophomore at Oregon State University majoring in agricultural business management, with a double minor in communications and Spanish. He will return to campus from Indianapolis on Nov. 1 and wrap up his classes by Thanksgiving before heading back for training with the National FFA Officer team on Nov. 24.

The 2018-19 officers also include Luke O’Leary, of San Luis Obispo, Calif., who was elected the highest rank of any FFA officer as national president. O’Leary previously served as California FFA president in 2017-18, and is now studying agriculture leadership and development with a minor in political science at Texas A&M University.

Like Booster, O’Leary, 20, does not come from an agricultural background, though he does remember spending summers on his grandfather’s cattle ranch in Grant County, Ore. His first class at San Luis Obispo High School was agricultural sciences, which he said only reinforced his passion for production agriculture.

“It was right from the start of freshman year that I was hooked,” O’Leary said.

Being chosen National FFA president was an incredible experience, O’Leary said, made only more surreal by what happened just before the election. O’Leary’s father, Thom, the lead pastor at a nondenominational Christian church in San Luis Obispo, was called by President Donald Trump to lead a prayer in the wake of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting during the president’s speech at the convention.

“I haven’t even really heard the full story yet,” O’Leary said.

Rounding out the leadership team is Layni LeBlanc, an animal science-science and technology major at Louisiana State University, who was elected national secretary; Adrian Schunk, a communications major at Michigan State University, who was elected eastern region vice president; Ridge Hughbanks, an agribusiness major at Oklahoma State University, who was elected central region vice president; and Jordan Stowe, agriscience education major at Auburn University, who was elected southern region vice president.

Both Booster and O’Leary said they are eager to see how FFA is continuing to develop students across all corners of the country.

“FFA truly focuses on developing students,” Booster said. “Being a part of FFA, you get to see youth that is just supremely confident.”

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