June 29 2023 08:00 AM

Being a leader for what you believe in doesn’t require a title.

The National FFA Organization became a huge part of my life starting my sixth-grade year when my agriculture teacher showed up on my front porch with a form to join. From that day on, I became a member of one of the greatest organizations I could have ever joined. I loved pursuing my passion in the dairy industry but also learning about all other aspects of the agricultural world.

By my senior year of high school, I was convinced and determined to become a state officer and give back to the amazing organization that helped me feel like I belonged. However, a greater power had other plans for me. I’ll never forget how upset, crushed, and humiliated I felt when my name wasn’t announced as a state officer, but nothing compared to how awful I felt a few months later. Right before my freshman year of college started, the dairy club decided to go tubing down the James River. As I was waiting on my ride, I ran into one of the state officers that had been elected that year. We made small talk, and I told him I was uncertain about running again as I had three more years I could try. I’ll never forget him saying, “Probably better if you don’t run. You’re not good enough to be a state officer.” Those two sentences will forever echo in my ear because that was the day I decided I didn’t need to be a state officer to support the greatest organization of all time. No, I could just be me.

When I started college, almost everyone in the dairy department was a past dairy princess, breed queen, state officer, and so on and so forth. I never had interest in being a dairy something or other. I was a farmer from a small town that just loved the dairy industry. So, by my sophomore year of college, I decided that I didn’t need a crown or official jacket to give back. All I needed were real stories, real happenings, and an audience that would listen and support our industry. By the time I graduated, my social media pages boomed and became popular. I was signed up for several speaking engagements and so much more. At that moment, I was more determined to keep up as I continued to succeed in my goal of giving back to the greatest industry.

After graduation, I became active in my FFA alumni and have continued to do all I can to support the group that struck a passion in me. I wasn’t meant to wear the blue jacket after graduation, nor was I meant to wear a crown, but I found ways to give back, support, and continue doing what I love. For those that are royalty, congratulations and I wish you all the luck. We do need folks to be a voice, those that can stand up and be respected. Just because it wasn’t in the cards for me doesn’t mean it isn’t for everyone. I have several friends that have worn the crown and/or jacket. They are amazing opportunities! I would never discourage anyone from trying; this is just my story of how it was, how it went, and how I bounced back from disappointment. How have you overcome disappointment and discouragement? No matter if your story was like mine or not, remember to stay safe, be amazing, and keep being you.

Courtney Henderson

The author is a sixth-generation farmer and fifth-generation dairy producer in southwest Virginia, where she and her family own and operate a 145-head Holstein dairy. Courtney is involved in agriculture organizations throughout her community and is a graduate of Virginia Tech.