The author and her husband, Duane, own and operate a 550-cow dairy in Cochranville, Pa.

Marilyn Hershey
I recently had the opportunity to judge the extemporaneous speaking contest at the Pennsylvania Junior Holstein Club annual convention. When I received the invitation, I almost declined as my schedule tends to fill up this time of year, but this particular opportunity tugged at my soul.

Junior Holstein Club (JHC) events are deeply embedded in my past — not as a participant but as an adult. At one point, our county had nearly 25 enthusiastic members attending JHC activities. Myself and a handful of other parents were the club leaders that joined them for the activities.

There are a wide variety of youth represented at these events. Some come from farms; some are friends, neighbors, or relatives of farmers; and some of the juniors just want to be involved in a fun program.

The cream-of-the-crop event for us is the Junior Holstein Club Convention. This event gathers juniors from across Pennsylvania for a weekend of contests, banquets, awards, and a ton of fun. The energy is infectious, and the skills learned are life changing.

The first year we took a team to the Dairy Bowl contest will forever be a great memory. Our juniors were at the younger end of the age bracket. I distinctly remember our first match was against a group of young men who were at the older end of the age bracket, making this a seemingly uneven match.

Our young participants did not recognize what they were up against, and for a while, neither did the opposing team, as our novice gang was beating them to the buzzer and putting points on the board. After several questions, they took a time out, regrouped, and put us back into the position I would expect.

If I remember correctly, the young men went on to win the division, and we went home knowing we had more to study. Without a doubt, the fun outscored the exhaustion and the loss by a long shot.

I always encouraged our youth to take part in the extemporaneous speech contest as it is a strong test of skill. The contest is impromptu, takes a ton of courage, and develops your craft for public speaking.

There are three divisions — junior, intermediate, and senior — and they pick three topics from a hat. The contestant can decide which one to present, and they have 30 minutes to do research and prepare. The time of the presentation varies by division, and accuracy matters on the scorecard. The session ends with a few questions that dive deeper into the topic, giving the judges a snapshot of understanding.

This year’s questions varied, and the topics were more controversial as we got into the senior division. We heard several presentations on how to handle unethical behavior in the showring, dairy exports and the global market, how to explain the difference between real milk and plant-based to consumers, technology in the dairy industry, the impact of sexed semen and genomics, and mentors in our lives.

The topic selection was relevant to our dairy industry, and I have to be honest, there were times that I was so engaged in listening to the speech that I was not taking notes or jotting down questions. One particular young man gave a very heartfelt presentation about his grandfather and how much he has learned and is learning from both him and his father. The speech was full of respect, examples of strong character, and a deep passion for farming. This young man had us fully engaged in his talk.

Another junior member that stood out to me was a young lady who tackled the invaluable topic of farm safety. She spoke from personal experience as their farm holds a farm safety day every year to help youth work more safely and carefully around animals and equipment.

The tough part about judging the contest is that I wanted all of the juniors to win; however, that does not teach them about real life. One of the strong values in this event is knowing that these young people are developing skills that will help them later in life. They are awarded for their hard work, and they are also challenged to improve themselves, strengthen their speaking skills, and be strategic in organizing their thoughts and talking points.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the fact that I was judging with my dear friend, Diane. The surprise of spending a day beside her was an added bonus to an already stimulating day. I first got to know Diane at Holstein conventions, and it has been a friendship that deepens over time.

No matter how you fit into the dairy industry, if you want to be inspired and see hope in the future, I would encourage you to take time to participate in your respective junior breed program. You will be enlightened.

I was the true winner that day. I appreciated the opportunity to interact with an outstanding selection of juniors in the dairy industry, learn from their young, influential experiences, and be inspired by this generation of future leaders.