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Congressman says FFA changed life

During a stop Tuesday morning at Mineral Area College’s main campus in Park Hills to take a tour of the school’s agriculture program, U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, R-8th District, spent an hour speaking with FFA members representing Farmington and Fredericktown high schools.

This is the fifth year in a row that Congressman Smith, 37, has dedicated the month of August to focus on farms in southeast and south central Missouri. Speaking extemporaneously to the students in Rice Lecture Hall, Smith told them of the importance of FFA in his own life.

“It brings a lot of good memories to me to see the blue and gold,” he said. “The jacket that you’ve got on changed my life and I don’t say that lightly, and I’ll say that to anyone. When I was a freshman in high school, I joined the FFA because my brother was in the FFA and my dad was in the FFA. I had to do it.

“When I started vocational agriculture as a freshman, I can remember the five paragraphs of that creed. Those five paragraphs were terrible because I couldn’t say all of them because I couldn’t get in front of a group of people without just the fear of collapsing. I had to do it one paragraph at a time and that was about the most stressful thing I could do — just put those couple of sentences together into a paragraph.

“I don’t know what happened, but the four years I was in FFA — through all the leadership workshops I went to — it absolutely changed my life. I was involved in public speaking contests my senior year when I couldn’t even do the creed my freshman year.”

Smith ran unsuccessfully for assistant sentinel in his freshman year, but his name didn’t even go before the nominating committee.

“I took a road there where I could have just gave up or to try to see why I didn’t make it and to improve — and that’s what I did,” he said. “I went on to become the treasurer and then I was elected our chapter president and then area vice president.

“I ran for state office. I wanted state office more than anything. I worked so hard for it. I wanted that so much. There were five of us that interviewed for it and we were all area officers — and very good friends to this day still. We went through three rounds of interviews. I can remember it like it was yesterday and we had to go through a fourth one because they couldn’t decide. When I walked out of that fourth round I thought, ‘I’m going to get this.’ I was like, ‘I got it. It’s really easy.’

“Then we had to go through a fifth round because they couldn’t decide. In the fifth round they asked us one question — ‘Tell us a little bit more about yourself that we don’t already know.’ I said, ‘You know everything.’ I walked out and I knew I had lost at that moment. I’ve learned so much from that. That even helped me to grow in the future.”

Smith admitted the loss was a great disappointment because it had been the most important goal he had ever set for himself at that point in his life — and he didn’t get it.

“What FFA taught me was to learn why you didn’t make it and to build from that and it makes you a greater leader,” he said. “That’s how it changed my life. The night I got elected to Congress, I was 32 years old — the second youngest member of Congress out of 435 members. The average age is 56.

“Imagine that — working with 433 other people who are older than you. They were like my parents and grandparents, but the night I got elected, my chapter officers gave me my framed Salem FFA president jacket. It was the first thing I put in my Capitol office in Washington, D.C. And if you ever visit, it’s still hanging on the wall today. This organization means a lot to me and it means a lot to you if you’ll utilize it and experience it. It will mold and shape your life.”

According to Smith’s communications director, Maggie Starks, over the coming weeks the representative will be visiting agricultural operations in each of the counties in the 8th Congressional District “to hear from farmers, ranchers and agriculture industry professionals to gain a better understanding of what challenges they are facing and how he can help as they work to feed and supply America.”

Smith also visited H & H Livestock in Madison County Tuesday. 

“The jacket that you’ve got on changed my life and I don’t say that lightly, and I’ll say that to anyone.” — U.S. Rep. Jason Smith

U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, left, listens to Mineral Area College horticulture instructor Chad Follis, center, as he talks about the school's agriculture program. Listening in is David Higgins, Southeast Missouri FFA coordinator for the Department of Education. The congressman was on campus Tuesday as part of his annual farm tour across the 8th Congressional District.

U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, left, listens to Mineral Area College horticulture instructor Chad Follis, center, as he talks about the school’s agriculture program. Listening in is David Higgins, Southeast Missouri FFA coordinator for the Department of Education. The congressman was on campus Tuesday as part of his annual farm tour across the 8th Congressional District.

After taking a tour of MAC's agriculture department on Tuesday, Congressman Jason Smith speaks to FFA students from Farmington and Fredericktown High School. He told the students that his participation in FFA changed his life and made it possible for him to run for U.S. Congress.

After taking a tour of MAC’s agriculture department on Tuesday, Congressman Jason Smith speaks to FFA students from Farmington and Fredericktown High School. He told the students that his participation in FFA changed his life and made it possible for him to run for U.S. Congress.

Congressman Jason Smith (right) visited H & H Livestock as part of his Farm Tour on Tuesday. Owners Kiley and Shawn Hinkle explain the process the eggs go through.

Congressman Jason Smith (right) visited H & H Livestock as part of his Farm Tour on Tuesday. Owners Kiley and Shawn Hinkle explain the process the eggs go through.

While talking to a group of FFA high school students on the MAC campus, U.S. Rep. Jason Smith laughingly tells them that he was so shy, the other students in his Salem FFA group wouldn't nominate him for the position of area sentinel.

While talking to a group of FFA high school students on the MAC campus, U.S. Rep. Jason Smith laughingly tells them that he was so shy, the other students in his Salem FFA group wouldn’t nominate him for the position of area sentinel.

Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or kjenkins@dailyjournalonline.com

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