I came across this blog post in my Facebook news feed today. Reading it brought tears to my eyes, because I know exactly how that girl feels. It’s a sad moment when you hang up your FFA jacket. You know you are closing a chapter in your life. And it’s hard. I’d imagine athletes, military members and others who have dedicated their careers in service of an organization have much the same feelings.
It’s been 19 years since I took my jacket off for the last time. It was after the 1996 National FFA Convention in Kansas City, Missouri. I had run for, but not received, a national office. I was devastated and angry. A national office was something I had been dreaming about for years, and I’d put in hundreds of hours of work in preparation, but fallen a bit short of my ultimate goal.
In a bit of a temper tantrum and feeling sorry for myself, I pulled off my jacket and stuffed it in my backpack. I replaced it with a college sweatshirt. My parents were giving me a ride to the airport so I could catch my flight home, while they would drive the 1000 miles back to Wyoming. My dad had been watching me in the rear view mirror noticed what I’d done. As I climbed out of the car, he gave me a hug and nodded at my back pack.
“It’s gotten you this far. Don’t you think it deserves a little more respect than that?” he asked me. “Finish your FFA career just like you started it, proud as hell to be wearing that jacket.”
I don’t remember what I said back to him. I just remember grabbing my backpack and my bag and running for the comfort of the airport.
As my United flight winged me across the black night back to the Rocky Mountains, I thought about what my dad had told me. And he was right. I didn’t want my FFA career to end this way. The organization had given me too much. The jacket had carried me too far. I was too proud of being an FFA member to skulk around like a sullen teenager who hadn’t gotten her way.
So when my flight landed, I got my bag from the overhead bin, put my FFA jacket back on, and went to collect my luggage.
As I stood in line for a late dinner in the terminal, the lady at the counter asked what flight crew I was with.
“I’m not with an airline. I’m an FFA member,” I remember telling her proudly. Then I fingered the sleeve of my corduroy jacket with love. It definitely deserved some serious respect.
Proud as hell, indeed.
I know you inside and out. On the inside you’re filled with pins and accomplishments, in the left pocket is a piece of paper that reads, “Understanding”, and on the right elbow is a stain from cupcake icing. On the front is my name and on the back says where I’m from. You’re hot in the summer and cold in the winter. You were my life for five years, and today I took you off for the last time; so there you hang in my closet.
Since I was fourteen, you taught me lessons most don’t learn until they’re well into adulthood. I can nail the perfect job interview and give a strong handshake, interact with a room full of strangers, and run a proper meeting. You taught me to give the perfect sale’s pitch and even how to properly ask for a donation to support a good cause. You…
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