Valerie Earley
Valerie Earley
Valerie Earley graduated from Kingsland in May, but she isn't done with FFA yet as she is the Minnesota state secretary for the organization for 2014-15.

Throughout high school she was active in FFA, stepping up in leadership roles each year as she was Region VIII president in 2013-14 and Region VIII treasurer the year before that. She's also been a Spring Valley - Wykoff FFA chapter officer and in the past year she's competed in nursery and landscape, and prepared public speaking, in which she placed third at state.

As she has moved up to duties for the chapter to the district and now to state, her responsibilities have also increased as FFA is strong in Minnesota with 10,187 members.

"When I got office, I was very, very excited. Through the interview process, which took two days, I learned so much about myself and what I could accomplish," said Earley. "When I got office, I had partially convinced myself that my interviews did not go well...there are so many people who would do well as state officers, and it was intimidating standing in the back line at the convention. I was a little bit shocked, and thankful to have the opportunity to continue to serve FFA."

Earley became a leading member of FFA throughout her high school career after attending Greenhand camp, the first camp held for new members, soon after she joined FFA in eighth grade.

"There's a sense of belonging in FFA, and I found my passions there...it basically tied together everything I believe in. I met some awesome people in leadership the first year at Greenhand camp. I think that's what did it for me - I saw myself in that position," she explained. "I've had a definite passion about agriculture growing up on a farm, and I saw myself learning more about ag through FFA. Starting out, I was definitely passionate about ag, growing up on a farm, but FFA is where I saw myself learning more about ag, and as I got more involved and went to more regional and state events, I definitely became more passionate about it."

She soon found that she could become a leader and make an impact on other people in such a unique organization, which was exciting. Being a leader is a scary thought to some people, said Earley, but the first Greenhand camp influenced her.

The organization with half a million members worldwide is student-led. It's also inter-curricular-based, hands-on agriculture education, with a three-circle model that makes members want to be well-rounded, driven students, noted Earley.

"We're equally passionate, focused on service and on learning," she said. "That's what FFA does, and why I'm so focused on it."

Becoming a state office-holder is a very humbling experience, said Earley, as she recognizes that without her chapter, the community and advisor Kristal Brogan's help, she wouldn't have grown in FFA.

"It becomes less about the title of 'secretary' and more about the people who helped me find my way. I want to take the opportunities...this is a really cool experience to have - not only for the people who helped you along the way, but it's a chance for helping others," she said. "It's a very cool thing for our chapter to be involved in more state activities. The business and community members supported me and the trips we had for FFA, seeing our chapter grow, everything they've done...I hope it's a proud moment for them."

Earley didn't run specifically for the state secretary's position, as candidates simply run for state office and are chosen based on their qualifications after eight rounds of interviews that "seemed very real," like actual job interviews.

"I guess why I ran for state office is that I saw the impact the officers could make in my life, and I wanted to get involved in it...it's definitely about being able to grow - not only is it about helping me grow throughout the year, because there's no way you can be a state officer and not grow, but it's also an opportunity to help FFA membership grow," she said.

She admitted that it's "kind of scary" to be at the top of the state organization, but she aspires to make the most of it, including being an ambassador, a student and a spokesperson for FFA, already having gotten to visit the Cargill and Ag Country corporate offices along with her five fellow officers who hail from around the state.

After her year in office is up, she will continue to pursue her post-secondary career. She plans to major in agricultural education, but she doesn't know if she wants to teach or take the leadership track. She plans on getting her teaching license as there are always openings for ag teachers, but she is still weighing her options.

"I am very thankful for the support of our community, the business supporters of FFA, the people who have taken the time to do things for our FFA chapter, so many people in the state of Minnesota who have impacted me and helped me grow," she said.