Here by the owl

About nine or 10 years ago, I decided to join my rural high school's FFA chapter. For the uninitiated, FFA stands for Future Farmers of America. Yes, the club of the Napoleon Dynamite variety. I remember wanting to join because the club's advisor*, Mrs. Smith, asked if I'd like to sing at an FFA state convention. At the time, I was really into singing. I mean, she asked me about joining FFA at a God and Country rally where I sang either the National Anthem or God Bless the U.S.A., or something else featured on a '90s TIME LIFE CD compilation. Really playing to the demographic.

*Yes, AP Style says to use adviser. However, for fact error purposes, I followed what the FFA uses in its media.

Naturally, I signed up the following school year.

Now FFA is actually a great organization, whether you're in the city or in the middle of a hay field. My best (and some of my worst) memories of high school deal directly with that club, the subject of which will be the focus of future posts.

I found out that FFA was, as oft quoted by Mrs. Smith, more than "cows and sows." There were leadership opportunities like holding an officer position or competing in our beloved CDEs (career development events) in areas of public speaking and the like.

One of the first CDEs every fall was the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. The contest was quite literal – reciting the opening and closing ceremonies of an official FFA meeting. Every FFA organization has a set of officers, from president down to the sentinel. During the opening ceremony, the vice president takes a roll call of each officer, and the officer responds with a little speech. It's just about as thrilling as it sounds.

Well this was a serious contest for the middle school set, and our middle school chapter made it to the state competition the year I joined.

You should know that I was not part of this team. Not until I became the "understudy" for the Advisor's part.

As it turned out, I would be needed at State. Awesome.

So I had the part memorized, which was pretty long relative to all the other officers' bits. The convention was held at some hotel in Orlando, and the contest itself in a big conference room. The room was laid out in a funky way, more circular than we were used to, with columns forming an "inner circle." Spectators sat toward the back and in the "outer circle."

Not to mention the other teams were sitting in as well, provided they had already competed.

Mrs. Smith readied us in the hallway, making sure our jackets were zipped to the top, straightening ties and scarves and snatching hands out of pockets. (A big no-no).

"Bronson Middle School," announced the moderator.

We filed in single-line style, dropping off officers at their designated post as we snaked around the room.

The advisor is the last officer to recite a part. So I was like the clean-up batter, if you will. The closer. Everyone basically exhales after I speak. Too bad that after I spoke it sounded like someone let the air squeak out of a three-day old birthday balloon.

The vice president looked to me.

"The Adviser?"

"Here by the owl."

"Why stationed by the owl?"

"The owl is the time-honored emblem of..."

Boom.

Just like that, I blanked. It was like I never knew the part from the get-go.

"Uh, it is the..."

And then a thousand thoughts raced around, dizzying in their number and speed. It was like I was playing whack-a-mole on speed or something in my brain.

I have no idea what comes next. I don't even know what I'm saying now. I'm not sure where I am. It's also incredibly hot in here. They should really re-think these jackets. Good Lord am I still talking?

To be honest, I don't know if I actually finished the part. I must have mumbled my way through something and regained composure enough to ask the vice president for his part.

As soon as we finished, I remember immediately going to the bathroom and ugly crying. Like sobbing to the point of not breathing. My face was red and my head throbbed.

My pride was hurt, and I was so upset that I let this team down who worked so hard to get to state. No, we didn't place. I don't think we got called to the stage at all. I bounced back later in the week, of course. But that was my introduction to public speaking. My first time in the spotlight.

That's how I got started in FFA.

My next-door neighbor

My next-door neighbor

Domo arigato