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A Place at State

OKABENA -- She may not fit the stereotypes often placed on FFA members ... she doesn't live on a farm, she doesn't crank up the radio when the country music hit "International Harvester" comes on, and she doesn't -- not for a lack of trying -- get to drive a tractor.

Yet for all of the stereotypes Sydney Place doesn't fall into when it comes to the FFA, she has one very big voice when it comes to representing the blue corduroy jacket she proudly wears.

Place was one of six teens from across Minnesota to be elected to a state FFA office last week during the organization's annual convention in St. Paul. For the Southwest Star Concept (SSC) High School senior, hearing her name called to the stage was a lifelong dream -- a dream she began living on Thursday when she left for her first official duties as state FFA reporter, Blast-Off training.

For many students the FFA path begins as a Greenhand, during their freshman year of high school. For Place, the path was outlined much sooner.

With a father who serves as the agriculture teacher and FFA advisor at SSC, Place had attended eight national FFA conventions by the time she was 10 years old. It was while there that she set goals for herself in the agricultural organization.

"As a little kid, I had seen the 50,000 members at national convention, all wearing these corduroy blue jackets," she said. "I would always be jealous because I wanted my blue jacket.

"When I finally zipped up the jacket and wore it, I was able to experience FFA at its finest and all of the opportunities and experiences that have shaped me in my life and my future," she added.

Place joined the FFA after enrolling in her dad's Ag 9 class at SSC with 23 of her fellow freshmen. That year, she was chosen as the chapter's FFA Creed speaker and went on to not only win the Region VI Creed speaking contest, but the state event as well.

The FFA Creed epitomizes everything the organization stands for, and must be memorized by all freshman FFA members. Those who compete in the creed contest are judged based on delivery of the creed and interpretation of what it means.

In addition to being the FFA Creed speaker as a freshman, Place was elected vice president of the chapter's novice parliamentary procedure team.

By the following year she was chapter historian, and competed in the FFA's prepared public speaking contest. Again, she won the region contest as well as the state event.

With her mother, Julie, serving as the school's speech coach, Place said competing in the public speaking events really prepared her to seek higher offices in the FFA.

By the time she was a junior, Place was elected vice president of the SSC FFA and reporter for Region VI, which encompasses 22 chapters in southwest Minnesota. That year she also competed in the job interview contest, winning the region contest and placing fourth at state.

Just as her junior year was winding down, Place was elected president of the SSC FFA chapter and president of Region VI FFA. The latter title had her and other region presidents teaming with state officers to present leadership conferences to younger FFA members.

Now, with her year as president of two FFA groups behind her, Place looks forward to bigger and better things as a state officer.

"A goal I've set for myself is to influence as many members as I can," she said. "We always talk about the dash on our FFA jacket -- the 2008-2009 -- and that dash represents the time you have to serve as a state FFA officer. That represents the opportunities and experiences and members' lives you can influence."

One of her greatest opportunities will be as a delegate to the National FFA Convention this fall.

"We get to vote on important issues that affect national FFA and agricultural education," said Place. "That's something I'm looking forward to is making a difference in the national FFA."

To describe the organization she has faithfully served these past four years, Place said, "FFA helps you find out what your passions are. For me it was speaking and leadership, for the girls in my high school it's floriculture, and for the boys at Westbrook-Walnut Grove, it's meats (judging).

"The FFA holds so many opportunities for you to find out what you're passionate about and help you develop your future success."

Throughout her FFA career, Place has taken advantage of many of the leadership trainings the organization offers. As a freshman, she went to the State Greenhand Leadership Conference and Washington Leadership Conference, and then it was the State Leadership Conference for Chapter Leaders as a sophomore. As a junior, she attended POWER -- Providing Officers With Essential Resources.

Those camps, she said, encouraged and empowered her to get to where she is today -- a state officer with dreams to one day vie for a national FFA office.

Following next year's state convention, Place will apply to be a Minnesota National Officer Candidate.

"If chosen to represent Minnesota, I will run for a national FFA office," she said. "It's always been one of my dreams to run for national office and hopefully serve as a national officer."

Another dream she is working toward is earning her American FFA degree, which requires FFA members to make $10,000 in their chosen Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE). Place's SAE is raising purebred Yorkshire sows and selling the pigs to 4-H and FFA members to show at the fair. This summer, she also plans to rent 40 acres from her dad to grow crops. Perhaps then she will finally get to drive that tractor.

"I sort of break the traditional FFA member kind of stereotype -- you're a farmer, you love country music, you drive a pickup truck. Most of my friends are FFA members who are big farmers," said Place. "I'm a girl from Okabena. I like punk rock music. I do drive a truck, but there isn't country music blaring from it -- it's usually rock, Paramour or Bon Jovi. I actually went to the Warped tour last summer with some friends."

That's a message Place plans to deliver throughout her reign as a state FFA officer.

"You don't have to be a farmer to reap all the benefits that FFA has to offer.," she added.

As if she isn't busy enough with her FFA activities, Place was on both the volleyball and basketball teams at SSC, and competed in speech. This semester, she enrolled in post-secondary college option classes at Minnesota West.

Place will graduate from Southwest Star Concept in a few weeks and then prepare for college in the fall. She will attend the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus to pursue degrees in agriculture business and communications. She has an older sister, Whitney, and a younger sister, Courtney.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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