FRESNO, Calif. — California FFA’s newly elected state officer team pondered a future of growth and opportunity as the organization bid farewell to its 24-year state conference home.
Luke O’Leary of San Luis Obispo, the 2017-18 state president, said he wants to focus the coming year on increasing diversity within the FFA while maintaining unity.
“We have a lot of challenges,” O’Leary told the Capital Press. “With just the size of the association, we have to find a way to serve everyone.”
The organization’s growth is why the FFA is cutting ties with Fresno’s Selland Arena and adjacent convention center after moving its state convention there from San Luis Obispo in the early 1990s.
The convention had roughly 1,000 attendees when it moved, and now nearly 6,000 of the state’s 79,500 FFA members attend the gathering. Members are scattered at various hotels in downtown Fresno, prompting state advisers to search for larger venues with more concentrated lodging.
The conference will now alternate between Anaheim and Sacramento, with the Anaheim Convention Center the site of the 2018 and 2019 gatherings, assistant state adviser Josiah Mayfield said.
“We’re excited for what it’s going to offer our students in terms of opportunities for growth,” Mayfield said.
The convention will have to do without as much help from California State University-Fresno, which hosts an afternoon of workshops and has its students handle everything at the conference from set-up to publicity.
Mayfield said he’ll try to engage all of the state’s major agriculture colleges — Fresno State, California Polytechnic University-San Luis Obispo, Cal Poly-Pomona, CSU-Chico and the University of California-Davis — to help out.
“We’re grateful for everything that Fresno State has done for us,” he said.
The change of venue will be a key order of business for the leadership team headed by O’Leary, 19, a freshman at Texas A&M University who’s taking a year off college to handle his FFA duties. O’Leary is among the 3 percent of California FFA members who are already high school graduates.
He is joined on the 2017-18 state officers’ team by Vice President Jasmine Flores of Atwater, Secretary Genevieve Regli of Ferndale, Treasurer Armando Nevarez of Holtville, Reporter Hunter Andrade of Tracy and Sentinel Robert Marchy of Turlock.
The new officers were announced after each of the outgoing state officers had taken turns over the course of the April 20-25 conference in giving heartfelt speeches about their time in office. Each also had their parents and advisers on stage to thank them in moving tributes.
Outgoing President Andrew Skidmore of Atwater themed his speech on integrity and respect. He apologized for using an off-color word to describe himself during candidates’ speeches last year, and said the controversy taught him to value the respect of others.
“We need to hold ourselves accountable for our decisions,” Skidmore said. “Respect is the communication of values to others. … No acts of greatness have ever been achieved by people who do not care.”
Skidmore and his sister, Secretary Amanda Skidmore, were the first-ever twins to serve together at the state level. They and their fellow 2016-17 state officers — Vice President Lauren Milang of Woodland, Treasurer Sam Looper of Apple Valley, Reporter Conner Vernon of Nipomo and Sentinel Jace Neugebauer of McArthur — ceremonially retired their trusty blue-and-gold jackets amid wild cheers and tearful embraces.
In her farewell speech, Milang told of a moment that a butterfly landed on her shoulder and she thought later it was a divine message, as soon afterward she learned her best friend had passed away.
“Remember that there’s beauty in change,” she said. “You just have to find it.”
California has 317 high school FFA chapters and more than 760 FFA advisers and agriculture teachers.