SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — As the National FFA eastern region vice president, Gracie Murphy has met members and been involved in events across the nation, including eight state conventions.
“Illinois is one of the largest conventions. All the other conventions have been smaller than this,” said Murphy during 95th annual Illinois Association FFA State Convention.
“Listening to the Illinois election with the speeches and voting, the stress and anticipation, that was really good to feel,” the Macomb FFA member said.
“Illinois is one of the only states that the state officers take a year off to be full-time state officers,” she said. “In other states, the officers are still college students, so the amount of effort put into it is different than Illinois.”
Murphy has learned a lot about how FFA is different in other states.
“I had no idea how incredible Illinois has it. For example, Mississippi doesn’t have a state staff right now,” she said.
“I’m really grateful to be part of a state that gets so much funding from the Department of Education and the Department of Agriculture, because you don’t see that in a lot of states.”
Since the election of the six national officers last October, Murphy has learned about how agriculture is different across the United States.
“It’s been what I expected, but multiplied by about 50,” she said. “It’s 50 times the exhaustion, but also 50 times the experiences and 50 times the people, personal growth and lessons learned.”
One of Murphy’s special memories is the week she spent in Montana for chapter visits.
“The people were so friendly, genuine and authentic,” she said. “I learned a lot about agriculture, specifically issues they face that I don’t even think about, like drought.”
The national officer now understands the struggle to feed cattle when there is not enough rain to grow crops and it’s difficult to irrigate.
“That was eye-opening,” she said. “And driving down the highway and being surrounded by ranches — not TV ranches, but actual ranches — I loved spending time there.”
Murphy also visited chapters in New Hampshire and Massachusetts for a week.
“I loved that, as well, and again so much learning,” she said. “When driving down the road there are trees everywhere, so agriculture there looks more like trees and lumberyards, not crops or livestock.”
It has been interesting, Murphy said, to learn about the different perspective of FFA from her five officer teammates.
“They are incredible individuals and they have amazing stories,” she said. “FFA is the one thing that bonds us all and each one of us views it differently.”
Having different perspectives on the National FFA officer team works great, Murphy said.
“For example, Karstyn Cantrell and I are almost polar opposites, so when we’re on chapter visits, I pretty much take the lead,” Murphy said. “But when we’re with sponsors and on foundation visits, she takes the lead because that’s her thing.”
“It’s been really cool to be on a team where we play on each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” she said. “That’s been a growing experience.”
For any FFA member who is considering a national officer position, Murphy said, it is important to have a strong sense of who you are and what you believe in.
“For me, what helped me the most is having a solid foundation of who I am, what my values are, who I want to be and what the national organization should be,” she said. “You need to be able to express that and keep the members in mind at all times.”
It’s OK to listen to people and have an open mind to learn new things, Murphy said.
“But if you don’t have a solid foundation, then you could be swayed really easily,” she said. “This organization needs more people who are willing to stand up for what they believe in.”
Following the completion of her officer term at the 96th National FFA Convention and Expo in November, Murphy will return to Southern Illinois University.
“The current plan is to major in agricultural education, but I might look into agricultural economics or international agriculture,” she said. “I am open to a lot of opportunities and I want to be able to travel and teach people about agriculture.”