Student leader gives back
By Kylene Scott
It's rare when a college student wants to give back to his peers, but for one Oklahoma State University student it was about all he could think about.
Riley Pagett, a Woodward, Okla., native, just finished serving as the 2010-2011 National FFA president. He is a 2008 graduate of Woodward High School, now attending OSU majoring in agricultural communications with a minor in religious studies.
Although he lived in town growing up, his family did have a small cow-calf operation in northwest Oklahoma. That was where his love for agriculture was cultivated. Pagett described his early farm experience as a clubhouse.
"You know when you are a kid and kind of feel like you're conquering the world—that's what it was for me," Pagett said. "As I grew older it became more of a responsibility and a family activity where I could be with my dad and my mom and my sisters and do something for the greater good."
Involved in 4-H and eventually FFA, he began show-ing at a really young age, starting with hogs, and adding Angus cattle during middle school.
"My freshman year of high school I got my very own checkbook and wrote my very first check to pay for a Boer goat from a friend," Pagett admits. "I remember calling my dad after school one day and telling him that I had bought this show goat with my very first check, and he's like, 'what are you going to do with it?'" And I hauled it home in the back seat of my truck.
Although Pagett, the youngest of Wade and Christi Pagett, is no longer living at home, he enjoys going back and helping with the farm. He is now re-enrolled at Oklahoma State and will start back with classes in January after taking a year off to fulfill his duties as the National FFA president.
Although Pagett served as an Oklahoma State FFA officer 2008-2009 and he was the Northwest District vice president, ending up as the National FFA president was no easy feat. He ran for state president and was selected as a national officer candidate but ended up not getting either position, but he didn't give up.
"I faced rejection two times in one year really and went home and went back to school and was a college kid," Pagett said. "I thought surely there's some way. There's got to be some way that I can give back. I don't know why, but something inside of me said that I should run again."
At the end of his sophomore year of college, Pagett was again chosen to be the national officer candidate for Oklahoma. Each state is allowed to have one candidate to take to the national convention.
"I worked all summer preparing myself—doing mock interviews with persons in the Stillwater and Oklahoma City areas and then I also did a training in Washington, D.C., with Oklahoma's most recent national president (2005) Travis Jett," Pagett said. "I did a lot of praying, a lot of thinking and a lot of hoping and crossed my fingers and went to national convention."
The convention process is pretty extensive, he said, with candidates arriving before the event begins and evaluated by a nine-person nominating committee and student delegate leaders.
"They evaluated us on knowledge of the ag industry, FFA and of agricultural education," Pagett said.
Candidates also took a test, wrote an essay, did a mock workshop, an extemporaneous speech and answered questions. They also did stake holder rounds—rounds of interviews with state FFA staff, agriculturists in the community, students or parents. Then there was a second cut. After the cut, candidates continue with more interviews and a personal round, and then on the final day of the convention the names of the new six individuals who will be leading the National FFA for the next year are announced.
Pagett wasn't running for a specific office, but rather to be one of the six on the national officer team.
"They slate six individuals who they think will work best together," he said. "There's no telling who will be the president, who will be each region's vice president, and so on and so forth."
There are six officers—national president, national secretary and four regional vice presidents (eastern, southern, western and central). Pagett said each region has to have at least one national officer to represent that region and then the other two are elected at large from any of the regions.
"It's pretty uncommon for three national officers to be from the same region," Pagett said. "So when they called central region, which is the region Oklahoma is in, my name was not called and they called national secretary and he was from Colorado which is also from the central region, and so by that point I had just about thought that there was no hope of my name being called."
Pagett said his mother about gave up too. She thought when the second central region name was called, it was time for Riley move on.
"Then my name was called. So not only was it a shock that three from the central region were national officers, but it was a shock that my name was called as national president," he said. "Honestly, I don't even remember hearing Riley Pagett. I remember hearing from the state of Oklahoma and running to the front of the convention hall and onto the stage to meet my teammates for the year and it was a pretty amazing feeling honestly."
After a brief whirlwind of interviews, photos and celebrations, Pagett went back to Oklahoma to finish up at OSU for the semester and prepare for his training. The taste of what to come was almost too much to take.
"A friend described it best as eating a can of Pringles," Pagett said. "You know how addictive Pringles are? You get a Pringle or two, right, and then there's this whole can that you know is full of Pringles and someone puts it on a shelf really high and you can't touch it. That's what it's like after you are elected."
Booted back to reality, Pagett finished up his coursework at OSU and following Thanksgiving the team flew to Indianapolis where they began a three-week training.
"We were meeting staff at the National FFA headquarters, working on speeches, workshops, and working on things that we should know throughout the year such as travel items or time management skills or how to interact with students and how to interact with business leaders, because that's really what our lives would consist of for the next 365 days," Pagett said.
Following the holidays, the FFA officer team went for intensive speech training in Arkansas, as well as training for their trip to Japan.
"For the last 30-some odd years the national officer teams have been sponsored by Mitsui to go to Japan for an international experience," Pagett said. "We study global agriculture and we stay with a host family who have students in FFJ, which is equivalent to our FFA."
The team arrived in Japan prior to the devastating earthquake.
"It's a pretty surreal opportunity to go. I had never been overseas. To go overseas and experience that type of agriculture was pretty cool," Pagett said.
The team visited Nagoya port, where they saw a ship carrying corn from the United States. Aboard the ship, it really hit Pagett the impact of American agriculture.
"We are in a foreign country, touching corn basically from our soil, and to see the impact that American agriculture has on so many lives and on the lives that we will never even meet, never even know, but were making a difference in the world," he said. "We are agriculture's leader in the world, so it's pretty cool to get to experience that."
In the following months, the officer team is sent on their first big trip during National FFA Week in February. Each office is sent to a destination they might not be used to.
"So for my teammate from New Mexico, she was sent to North Dakota, which is obviously very, very chilly," Pagett said. "I got to go to Hawaii. I don't know how I managed that."
Pagett met Hawaii FFA members and chapters from all of the islands and participated in their state FFA convention. After his Hawaii trip, Pagett to more state conventions—Nevada, Nebraska, California, Oklahoma, Vermont, South Carolina, and Indiana.
"It was just really awesome to see all of the types of ways that people do things and to see all of the different ways that students interact on different levels," Pagett said. "One thing's for certain, students no matter where you go are passionate about agriculture, ag ed and FFA. It's really cool to see that."
After the state convention season, officers go to a few camps and some FFA banquets. They are divided into pairs and go to three different states and do national leadership conferences for state officers, which is where state officers from all across the nation come and participate and get training that they'll need for their year, much like what Pagett received in Indianapolis at the beginning of his term.
Then the team starts preparing for state presidents conference.
"It's one of the longest-standing conferences in FFA history on the national level and it allows state presidents from every state and also another delegate from that state to come to Washington, D.C., and receive training for the delegate process which happens at national convention," Pagett said. "Basically you get to know the state presidents from across the nation. It's a cool way for them to network, and a really cool way for us to see delegates from all across the nation that we might not have seen throughout the year."
At the national convention, which Pagett described as the grand finale of them all, celebrates the successes of members from across the nation and their accomplishments, ag teachers, teachers, parents and friends of agriculture and FFA.
The delegates Pagett helped train at state presidents conference in Washington, D.C., and other delegates from across the nation vote on the issues that will affect FFA in the future at the national convention.
"That's what we're all about, and that's what we've been about for the past 84 years, so it's a cool way to end our year," Pagett said. "It's kind of surreal and very much a full circle, but it's a great way to end things and it's a great way to hand off to another group of six individuals—who there's no doubt in my mind that will do an exceptional job."
He believes the best part of his experience was interaction with other individuals.
"For me it was most definitely the interaction, because that's why I ran in the first place was to give back to—in my mind, the students that are the best in the nation," he said.
Pagett admits to being inspired by a group of Iowa students at a consolidated school, where he spoke at their banquet.
"What was the most inspiring to me was that their community was so impacted by the agricultural education program there and their community was so supportive of the things that they did it reminded me a lot of home," Pagett said. "It reminds you of the people there and it was pretty inspiring that FFA doesn't end after graduation. FFA and agricultural education doesn't graduate once you get a diploma, but the people there support that because they've been a part of it and it goes on to live with them forever."
Pagett said the former FFA members in the Iowa town were the ones who go to the stock shows, go to the banquets and they're the ones who give their dollars, but more importantly their time and energy to the students in those jackets like they did it at one time.
One thing is for sure, Pagett agriculture and FFA has forever influenced his life. Although his plan following graduation is not set in stone, he does know one thing.
"I'm guessing probably grad school or law school after that, but honestly, my eyes have just been opened to so much this year and have been opened to so many opportunities that I'm not really positive what it is what I want to do," he said.
Kylene Scott can be reached by phone at 620-227-1804 or by email at email@example.com.