On Wednesday, April 1, the 2020-21 Montana state FFA officer team was announced via Facebook Live. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Montana FFA made the difficult decision to postpone their annual convention, but they still wanted to proceed with the process of interviewing and selecting eight young leaders to head the organization.
The Montana FFA State Officers for 2020-21 are: Max Andres, Missoula; Bailey Gasvoda, Big Sandy; Brooke Mehlhoff, Twin Bridges; McKenna Quirk, Missoula; Gracie Smith, Victor; Gracie Tooke, Carter County; Chay VanDyke, Dawson; and Allyson Young, Fairview.
Interviews were conducted virtually, so it was only fitting that the selection of state officers be streamed over technology, as well. National FFA western region vice president, Mamie Hertel read the names of the selected officers in no particular order. In an effort to maintain some suspense, the individual offices will be announced, hopefully in person, at a later date.
The team is made up of a cross section of Montana FFA members with chapters from all across the state represented. No matter their home chapter and despite the non-traditional start to their year of service, these young leaders are bonded together by a singular goal: to make an encouraging impact on the 5,000 plus members of the Montana FFA.
Chay VanDyke, originally from the Dawson FFA chapter in Glendive, is unique to the team because his chapter has only been in existence for two years. VanDyke was a founding member of the chapter and had a “crash course” in the organization, taking in all FFA had to offer in a limited amount of time. Records indicate he is the very first Montana state FFA officer from the Dawson chapter.
VanDyke has long participated in 4-H and he is no stranger to leadership positions within the organization. Stepping up to be a state FFA officer never really crossed his mind until he heard some encouraging words from soon-to-be state officer teammate, Gracie Smith of the Victor FFA.
“Gracie and I were talking and she said, ‘You know what Chay, you should run for a state office just because you can. I think you have something unique to offer the organization because you have a fresh mindset,’” VanDyke reflected.
With those words echoing in his mind, Van Dyke discussed it with his advisor and decided to take a leap of faith and throw his hat in the ring.
The interview process was grueling, state officers reported. The majority of them were conducted through Google Hangout, which enabled the interviewees to even participate in group interviews in front of the remote nominating committee. Interviews were held early in the morning, late at night and completely last minute, so candidates received as close to a traditional experience as they could. The test portion and writing assignment, stand-by components of the running process, were conducted relatively normally and simply submitted electronically.
The interviews were held March 25-27, when the Montana FFA State Convention was originally scheduled to happen in Great Falls. After completing interviews, candidates had to nervously wait until the following Wednesday when the announcement was made.
Brooke Mehlhoff of the Twin Bridges FFA chapter surrounded herself with family to eagerly await the announcement, which came at 7 p.m. The iconic suspenseful music that has been played for years when Montana state officers are announced, streamed through computer speakers.
“I was in the kitchen making dumplings to console me if I didn’t get a state office or to celebrate with if I did get one. My family was there and it was something that was really exciting to be able to be surrounded by them in the comfort of my home,” Mehlhoff said.
Running for a state office completely virtually was not without its minor challenges. Candidates said it was difficult not having face-to-face interactions with their fellow running mates. On the flip side, being able to interview in a comfortable and familiar environment does wonders for soothing nerves. Only having to focus on state officer interviews and not be distracted by the commotion of a full-fledged state convention was also seen as a positive thing.
Another positive of this non-traditional approach is the fact no state officer knows their specific office. As of now the eight members are one singular unit.
“Waiting to announce the specific offices helps us bond as a team. I think if my office had been announced right away I would get really stuck in the duties required for that office. This way I am learning how I can help the team in a bigger picture,” pointed out Gracie Tooke of the Carter County FFA chapter in Ekalaka.
Most of the 2020-21 state officers had become well acquainted with each other over their years of involvement in Montana FFA. Now that they are seen as teammates, the new officers are all learning to meld together and use their individual strengths to benefit the team and Montana FFA as a whole.
This year’s state FFA officers may not have gotten the start they had hoped for, but several positives have come from the experience. Above all, these new leaders have shown that resilience, humility and perseverance are strong leadership qualities to possess in any situation.