By Ryan Cornell
Brian Walsh had wanted to be in the Future Farmers of America organization since the eighth grade. But the shy middle schooler couldn't seem to work up enough courage to ask his teacher about joining the program.
But Walsh did end up becoming part of FFA that next year during his first year at Central High School, and he has come a long way since then. Earlier this month, Walsh, a sophomore at Virginia Tech, was elected president of the national FFA organization.
"It's incredible, the journey I've been on and the growth I've seen in myself," he said. "But more importantly, the growth I've seen in others around me."
Dana Fisher, a high school agriculture teacher who helped mentor Walsh, remembers him as hardworking.
"Brian was a tremendous student," he said. "In his four years here, he won four state-winning FFA teams. To do that as a freshman and sophomore is incredible."
Fisher, who served as the national FFA vice president from 1997 to 1998, said Walsh is only the fourth national president from Virginia elected. Fisher added that the first national president elected from Virginia was former Woodstock mayor William Shaffer.
"He was willing to learn," Fisher said about Walsh. "And as a teacher, you love students like that."
Although Walsh graduated from Central in 2011, Fisher said he still comes back to visit with current FFA students when he's home from Virginia Tech.
At Virginia Tech, Walsh is studying agribusiness with a minor in leadership and social change. When he's not devoting himself to his coursework, he's going to Hokie football games and playing table tennis with his friends.
"I don't think I would be studying leadership and agriculture without FFA," he said. "It's developed a passion for what agriculture is."
Walsh was nominated to represent Virginia at the national FFA convention in Louisville, Ky., at the end of October. He said his agricultural knowledge and speaking abilities were tested in eight different rounds by a committee of delegates who interviewed him. On Nov. 2, he was chosen as president from 41 other candidates.
"As the names started to be called and you see who's on the team, I heard 'Vir' and I jumped out of my seat and ran up," he said. "It's just an amazing feeling and a humbling experience to get to lead this organization."
Walsh presides over an organization with more than 579,000 members across the U.S. and serves on a team with five others men from Tennessee, Alabama, Iowa, West Virginia and Oregon, the first all-male team since 1992.
As president, he will be traveling to 40 different states representing the agriculture industry, talking to different FFA chapters and giving keynote presentations at state FFA conventions. He said he's going to be spending between 300 and 310 days on the road, totaling more than 100,000 miles, but he won't have to pack textbooks in his luggage. He said he plans to wrap up his studies in the next two weeks and will take a year off from Virginia Tech, returning in the spring of 2015.
Walsh will also represent the FFA at legislative conferences in Washington, D.C., and travel to Japan next year to promote U.S. agriculture and meet with Japanese students.
He said he hopes to teach for a few years after college and eventually work in Virginia's FFA organization.
"They're the ones who have inspired me and helped me along the way, so I hope to be that to other people," he said.
Signal Knob Middle School FFA chapter wins award
At the same national FFA convention, Signal Knob Middle School in Strasburg received the Outstanding Middle School Award. According to a release, the Top 5 three-star chapters in their division competed for the award. The school's chapter received a plaque in a ceremony on Oct. 31.
According to a news release from the National FFA:
"Members of the Signal Knob Middle FFA honed their life skills though a three-day retreat at Yogi Bear Park. The retreat focused on personal chapter goals, self-organization skills, time management, communication skills, teamwork skills and anti-bullying. They also saluted our veterans by volunteering at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games and hosting a breakfast and Veteran's Day program for sixth, seventh and eighth graders."
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or email@example.com