Michael Dowd Delivers State Vice President’s Retiring Address

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Michael Dowd during his retiring address

“Something More”

What combines the elements of a high stakes search, the lottery, and a rampage of children? For my family, this was the annual Easter egg hunt at grandma and grandpa’s house. Any grandkid younger than the age of 5 could be found speeding through the house and yard, searching in every hiding place, and scrounging to collect the most Easter eggs. Once the mad dash was finished, us grandkids would appraise our new loot. In my book, jellybeans were of the highest priority, followed by quarters and dimes, and then M&Ms.

After a few years of statistical observations, 5-year-old me came to the conclusion the outside shape and color of the Easter egg had no connection to what was inside. Maybe this was meant to be a life-changing lesson. Or maybe it was just because Grandpa was too lazy to color coordinate. The world may never know. But the same could be said for how we describe ourselves and our impact – what really matters has nothing to do with what initially meets the eye.

A few months ago, our team attended the National Sponsors Board meeting at Cargill. Of course, all of us were so excited to see the new building, interact with members, and have some pretty awesome food.  Soon enough, Max and I struck up a conversation with the lady sitting behind us. We could instantly tell that this lady was a huge Purdue fan because she started the conversation with, “Hi, I can help you get into Purdue, here’s my business card.” Beth Bechdol was her name and I soon discovered that Beth was the most passionate, enthusiastic, and humble person I’ve ever encountered. She immediately started sharing about the work she does for Agri-Novus, a company that serves as a catalyst for connecting agriculture companies to technology companies like Microsoft. She was always willing to share her story and her deep respect for growth was shown when she talked about agriculture.

When our greatness is built around our impact, we can fulfill a calling to something more than just a title.

Michael Dowd, 2018–19 Kansas FFA State Vice President

Beth shared some wisdom that forever changed my outlook on life. She said, “Michael look around. This is real life. There is no rubric or scorecard when it comes to real life.” This statement was so powerful for me because I had lived the lie that I was defined by how I placed, what office I held, or what grade I received. Later when I connected with her on LinkedIn, I realized that she was not just some ordinary Purdue graduate. Beth is the President and CEO of Agri-Novus which is just one part of her impressive list of former titles including Chief of Staff to the USDA Undersecretary, Deputy Economist for the Senate Ag Committee, Deputy Director of the Indiana Department of Ag, and multiple president and vice president positions. I was stunned at all of the high-level positions Beth has held during her career. But instead of only being a title, she embodied what it means to be purposeful, sincere, modest, and considerate. Hearing Beth’s wisdom and seeing her passion showed me that my worth is not based on the title next to my name. My worth is based on my impact and contribution.

Far too often we find ourselves chasing the next title, the next achievement, the next increment of our success. We might aim for becoming chapter president or placing high individual at a contest or winning a school-wide event. President, owner, team captain, vice president, cashier, prom king or queen, secretary, varsity player, grand champion, homecoming royalty, treasurer, JV player, valedictorian, lifeguard, reporter, employee, officer, stage director, sentinel, manager, state qualifier. These are all titles. These ambitions are valuable, and they can help motivate us to reach for the stars. But in reality, our worth is not based on titles nor achievements. We are worth more. We are defined not by our titles, but by the positive impacts we make on the world around us.

Those impacts are so varied from person to person. To reach great impacts, we must first find and live out adjectives like passionate, genuine, affectionate, caring, purposeful, humble, catalyzing, helpful, knowledgeable, creative, peaceful, respectful, intelligent, polished, polite, practical, faithful, responsible, honest, optimistic, robust, diligent, courageous, reliable, sympathetic, resilient.  All of these adjectives are greater than simple titles we can obtain. These adjectives leave impacts that are long-lasting and meaningful to the people around us. It’s so important that we drive our worth from traits and skills instead of from temporary titles. What traits and skills do we bring to the table? If someone were to write a letter or report about us, which words would they gravitate to? Would they be pulling words from the left or the right side? Which words do you want them to use? This week find three adjectives that summarize you and your impact.

When we live out those three words, amazing things happen. Members of the Coffeyville FFA Chapter helped me present about agriculture for 200 energetic third graders. Within a few moments, the rambunctious third graders were rapid firing questions ranging from “how can farmers use drones?” to “what would you do if a pig charged you while riding a cow?” The room was like a circus and everyone was bouncing off the walls with questions and ideas until one student started bawling. (awkward face and hand gestures). What was I supposed to do? Give him a high five? Or throw some candy and hope he stops crying? I had no preparation for that moment. Thankfully their teacher, Mr. Bruington, pulled him aside and resolved the situation.

Later when we talked with Mr. Bruington, he explained that many of his students have trauma from their home life. He went on to share that Coffeyville is a Mercury school piloting trauma therapy and emotional wellbeing. Mr. Bruington has multiple students who struggle with emotional trauma, so he spends time with each student to talk through their feelings and challenges. I had come to present to what I assumed would be a room full of wild and excited 3rd graders. I was, in no way, prepared to address individual students’ emotional trauma. Mr. Bruington, though, comes to school every day prepared to extend his impact beyond helping his students learn.

            It wasn’t title of teacher that defined his impact, but how he embodied what the word “teacher” meant to him. While still investing his time in grading papers and making lesson plans, he also spends time making an impact on his students’ lives by being their source of counsel and support. He was called to something more and he fulfills that calling through every student he impacts.

           In a world that constantly focuses on the titles, we are called to focus on something more. The first step to shifting this focus is to recognize others who have made a positive difference in our own lives. Think of one individual who has made a positive impact on your life. Maybe that person is back home. Maybe they’re somewhere else in the country or in the world. Maybe they’re in this auditorium right now. With this person in mind, think of 3 adjectives that describe this impactful individual. Thankfully we have some helpful adjectives right here, but by all means, think outside of this list. Recognition can come in many forms, but in the digital age, we have a few tools to help us give recognition quickly. One of these tools answers to “Hey Siri.” Let’s pull out our phones right now.

Dowd stands with his parents

           Since we’re all in convention mode, let’s plan to give this recognition next week. Find the reminders app for your phone. On the newest line, write the name of the person who’s made the biggest impact on your life. Next to their name, write the three adjectives that you have for them. Now if you’re an iPhone user, click the blue I on the right side of these words. For everyone, let’s set this reminder for Tuesday, June 4th at 9 am. When this reminder finally arrives, we will send this person a text with the three adjectives and how they have made an impact on our lives. Taking this action is the first step in showing others that their worth is not temporary, and their impact does not go unnoticed.

            When our greatness is built around our impact, we can fulfill a calling to something more than just a title. Like Beth Bechdol we are more than the title on our business card. We are called to recognize how others, like Mr. Bruington, live out their impact through their actions. We have the potential to live a life full of true service and good intention. That potential begins when we choose to define ourselves with adjectives instead of titles. We are called to do more than idly climb through the ladders of life searching for the next success. We are something more than our placing on the podium. We are something more than the words on our FFA jacket. We are something more than our position on the team. We are called to be known for our passion and our actions. We are called to make an impact. We are called to something more.

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