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SIU ag student reflects on serving as a national FFA officer

Student speaks on stage
SIU News

Spending a year as a national FFA officer taught Southern Illinois University Carbondale sophomore Gracie Murphy a lot about herself, as well as lessons she can carry throughout her life.

An SIU Chancellor’s Scholar from Macomb, Illinois, Murphy served as one of just six national FFA officers beginning in October 2022. She led more than 945,000 FFA members in the role after successfully competing in a series of interviews, speeches, mock discussions and other activities for nearly a week while being judged by a committee.

“Serving as a national officer is a huge commitment — one that requires each officer to commit a whole year of their life to serve an organization,” Murphy said. “I knew it would be hard at times and a lot to take on, and it was. But I also knew it would allow me to learn from people all over the country.”

As a national FFA officer, Murphy visited 30 states and South Africa, traveling about 100,000 miles along the way. As part of her duties, she advocated for agriculture and agriculture education and created connections with FFA members all over the country, meeting with stakeholders, speaking at FFA events, visiting schools and seeing agriculture education programs, participating in media shoots and doing any other activities that came her way.

Murphy said she was inspired people’s stories and gained more knowledge about the agriculture industry, as well.

“That’s something I am passionate about,” Murphy said. “Knowing that I could have this opportunity to learn, grow and make a difference in someone’s life is what made me want to seek out this opportunity.”

SIU plays a key role

Murphy, who is studying agriculture communications and agriculture business and economics, said SIU has been integral in its support of her efforts as a student and as an FFA national officer. The university began backing her before she was even enrolled in fall of 2022, after she had delayed her collegiate career for a year as she served as an FFA state officer.

Elected to serve as an FFA national officer before she had even completed a full semester at SIU, Murphy faced a full schedule and postponed classes again.

“SIU was very helpful and understanding with the opportunities that came my way,” Murphy said. “I had to take another year off of school to serve in a leadership role, and the school was very supportive and encouraging. Every one of the staff and faculty I interacted with made the transition out of and back into college smooth, which was incredible for limiting the stress of the situation.

“I am incredibly grateful for the support I have received from SIU. It has allowed me to follow my dreams and take advantage of all opportunities that come my way.”

Taking a chance

Murphy got involved with FFA in high school on a lark as she and her friends planned their schedules.

“I just decided to give it a try,” she said. “I don’t have a firm reason that got me into FFA, but I stayed because I found myself surrounded by a community of people who cared more about helping and supporting people and valuing them just as they are instead of defining the value of someone by how successful they were.”

She also credited a high school teacher, Wyatt McGrew, with kindling her interest in agriculture.

“He never gave up on me and taught me some of the best life lessons,” Murphy said.

Lessons learned

Murphy said she learned many lessons during her year as a national FFA officer.

Gracie Murphy, bottom row center, visits Washington D.C. with other FFA officers.

“One of my teammates from North Carolina taught me that all I need to do is be myself, and if that’s not enough, then I’m not in the right place,” Murphy said. “Others taught me that molds are meant to be broken, and people need real, not perfect.”

Another friend taught her that working toward things you want to see done is a far more valuable way to spend time than complaining.

“Two boys from South Africa, Lefa and Boka, taught me that curiosity is better than assumptions, and my friends from New York, Eric, Jacob, and Tristan, taught me that caring about who you are and how you make people feel is more important than the title you hold or how polished you sound.

“Overall, every single person I met this past year taught me the importance of fighting for what is right and how to make a home wherever your feet are planted,” she said.

Murphy isn’t sure what type of career she will pursue upon graduation from SIU.

“But I do know that I want to stay in agriculture,” she said.

Christi Mathis — student affairs; diversity, equity and inclusion; business and analytics; education; health and human sciences; psychological and behavioral sciences; innovation and economic development; international education.

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