A rising senior at Southeast Bulloch High School, Laurabeth Bland was elected recently the Central Region state vice president for Georgia at the 89th Georgia FFA Convention held in Macon.
Thirty-eight candidates applied to be state FFA officers. Twelve of them, four in each of the north, central and south regions, advanced from the nominating committee interview process. From those candidates, the delegates of the convention, representing all 317 chapters in the state of Georgia, voted to determine the team of eight who will spend the next year serving the Georgia Association.
The daughter of Tim and Liz Bland, Laurabeth Bland said she’s thought about being a state officer since her freshman year. However, her educational path almost didn’t include FFA.
“When I signed up for courses, I didn’t want to take an ag class,” she said. “Mom and Dad wanted me to at least give it a try.
“Some of the older students encouraged me to try an ag competition, and I won first place. When they handed me a check for $50, I said, ‘OK, tell me more about this.’”
Bland chuckled but said that with the encouragement of older student mentors, an interest in agricultural classes, the joy of competitions, and phenomenal FFA advisors and teachers like Hannah and Brian Elrick, former ag teacher Susannah Lanier and student teacher Brandon Poole, she was hooked in a short time and became actively involved.
“My freshman year, I was interested in being a state officer because one of our seniors was a state officer and she showed me what FFA offered above the chapter level,” she said. “I thought it was super cool but not really a reality. Then in my sophomore year, I thought about running but still didn’t know it was an achievable goal.”
When she finally decided to run and announced her intentions to her SEB High School chapter, she received much encouragement from her fellow FFA members.
“I knew I would be competing against the best of the best, and that was absolutely terrifying,” she said.
The first step in the process was an application form; then came resume-building, three letters of recommendations and a couple of papers.
The weekend prior to the state convention at the Macon Coliseum, Bland and others running for office journeyed to Fort Valley State University and almost immediately completed a written test of 50 questions pertaining to FFA history, 10 questions on parliamentary procedures and many agricultural questions.
Bland jokingly said it wasn’t a very welcoming way to start the weekend, but the students were treated to an officer social that evening. Saturday morning included two five-minute interviews with the current state officers, followed by a group interview in which 10 of those running had to complete a task together to showcase their communication skills.
“I’m pretty sure I cried all the way home,” Bland said. “So many emotions running through my body. I was so exhausted, physically and mentally.”
Less than a week later, the Southeast Bulloch High School FFA chapter attended the state convention with more than 5,500 FFA members from all over Georgia.
Early Friday afternoon, with a packed coliseum, the students found out the results from the previous weekend when the 12 top candidates were announced.
“When they call a name, the person runs to the stage. Let me tell you — I’m not graceful, and trying to run in heels?” she said.
Bland said additionally tricky was the fact that in preparation for an ice hockey game in the coliseum on Sunday, the students walked on a pad placed over ice.
“Sprinting in heels on a wet floor,” she said. “I was compared to a baby giraffe taking its first steps, but in the moment, I was too excited to think about anything else.”
Each of the 12 candidates then gave a prepared two-minute talk in preparation for the delegate voting that followed. Part of Bland’s cleverly written speech encouraged delegates to remember her when voting.
As she pointed out agricultural contributions across the state, she said: “I want nothing more than to help spice up the already wonderful dish that Georgia FFA is today. By choosing me as your seasoning, I will do my best to sprinkle kindness, enthusiasm and encouragement to every FFA member that I meet. The love and passion I have for this organization is unmatched. Together, we can make sure FFA is never bland but always grand! Remember to vote for me, LB, as your Central Region VP — Laurabeth Bland, where the only bland thing about me is my last name.”
Referring to the candidates, she said: “None of us slept on Friday. There’s nothing else you can do at that point. Just pray a lot. Me and Jesus got real tight over the weekend.”
When the complicated algorithm of slating the candidates with the most votes was said and done on Saturday morning, Bland was inaugurated as the Central Region state vice president.
“It’s really hard to explain the emotions,” she said. “You go in really excited the first 10 minutes of the session. Then your heart is crushed when your name isn’t called. But then an hour later, your name is called as vice president.”
A state officer
When the excitement of the outcome sank in, Bland said: “The biggest thing for me is that I’ve always looked at state officers as adding so much wisdom. ‘Man, they’re celebrities,’ I thought. Now that’s me! And there’s no other way I’d want to spend my senior year.”
As vice president, Bland will spend a great deal of her last year in high school traveling throughout the state, visiting chapters and meeting members.
“With eight officers for 41,800 members, it’s our job to make sure they get the best experience they can. It’s an honor and exciting, but it’s terrifying,” she said.
Bland also will travel to Michigan and Indiana this summer for eight days and will serve as an ambassador for the FFA and agricultural education.
The newly elected Central Region state vice president plans to attend the University of Georgia and major in agricultural communication.
“FFA has shaped me into a leader that I never knew I could be,” she said.
Bland previously held the offices of area secretary and SEB chapter president her sophomore and junior years and will serve in that capacity next year, too.
“FFA has really encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone,” she said. “When people ask me, ‘What is FFA to you?’ I tell them that it’s different things to me at different times. My freshman year, it was a task to do. My sophomore year, I loved doing it with my friends; I found my FFA family. My junior year, it’s been an opportunity to teach other people.
“It’s not about me anymore; it’s about growing other people and having an impact on others.”