Fathers play a major role
By Marie Lasater
“The goal of FFA is to grow leaders, strengthen agriculture and build our communities.” FFA website
On October 28 at the 90th Annual FFA Convention held in Indianapolis, not one, but two, dedicated young women with ties to Licking achieved one of FFA’s highest achievements, the American Degree. At the event, with over 65,000 FFA members attending, Lauren Gifford of Licking and Rae Kirkwood of Houston received their degrees at the event appropriately themed, “I can. We Will!”
The American FFA Degree is awarded to members who have demonstrated the highest level of commitment to FFA and made significant accomplishments in their supervised agricultural experiences. The American FFA Degree is awarded at the National FFA Convention & Expo each year to less than 1% of FFA members.
In addition to the degree, each recipient receives a gold American FFA Degree key.
Both Rae Kirkwood and Lauren Gifford have been FFA members when they first became eligible as high school freshmen, but their interest in farming and agriculture began way before then. For Rae Kirkwood, whose father Van Kirkwood has been an FFA advisor as long as she can remember, involvement in FFA began “as soon as I could walk.” When asked the areas of farming and ranching she is most passionate about, she declares, “Anything agriculture!” She is attaining her goal of becoming an Ag teacher by pursing a degree in agriculture at Missouri State University in West Plains.
When asked the hardest part of achieving an American Degree, Kirkwood states, “getting your State degree first! They only take the top 20% candidates, and there is a lot of competition.” Kirkwood went on to say, “FFA teaches leadership skills not taught by other organizations. It makes you get out of your comfort zone, and does wonders when speaking to any audience.”
Lauren Gifford’s father has also been instrumental in her achieving the American Degree. Exactly 25 years ago, her father Sam Gifford was the first American Degree recipient from Licking. When asked what it takes to achieve the degree, Gifford states, “Preparing to receive the degree is a very competitive process, involving many speaking engagements in different venues. FFA has helped me to grow myself as a person, while aligning my goals to serve both myself and my community.”
Gifford’s main interests are gardening, produce, canning and food preservation. She is majoring in agricultural education at Southeast Missouri State in Cape Girardeau, and is exploring future careers as a high school agricultural teacher, a state agricultural job, or maybe coming back home to work in the family’s business, Agri-Enterprises.
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The American FFA degree is the highest degree an FFA member can receive, Lauren and Rae have both worked hard to earn this degree. It takes many hours of participating and leading in FFA activities as well as the hours, dedication, and keeping records about their agricultural experiences, raising animals, baling hay, raising garden produce, working an agricultural job, plus performing hours of community service. They are both very outstanding young women and are an example for younger members. ~ Van Kirkwood, Licking High School Vocational Agriculture Teacher.