A 2019 Jacksonville High School graduate has been tapped by the Texas FFA Association to serve as a state officer for the 2019-20 school year.
Jeremiah Neal, who calls himself an “untraditional ag kid,” said he was “pretty shocked” when he was picked as the state association's Area XI Vice President.
“I didn't join FFA until my sophomore year, and I felt I didn't know as much as I should” about the organization, he said. “It's been more than 10 years – I think this makes it 11 years – since somebody from our school was chosen. And I understand there hasn't been an African American as a state FFA officer since the 1990s.”
JHS agriculture teacher and FFA sponsor Rachel Robinson, who said 14 local members attended the July 15-19 convention in Fort Worth, called this year's event “huge,” with “lots of big things for Jeremiah.”
“He's the fifth person we've ever had from our school – our FFA program is 80 years old, so that's really big,” she said. “He also received a $1,000 Ryan Mott Memorial Scholarship and was a finalist for a John Justin Scholarship, and received $500 for that.”
As an officer, Neal – the son of Lashunda and Antonio Neal – said he will travel from Jacksonville to Anuhuac to Nacogdoches to meet with the FFA chapters he represents in his region, all the while beginning his first year at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.
“I've actually not been home since July 19, and I've already done some things (with FFA),” he said Wednesday. “I've been in (Washington) D.C., on the Hill (during a five-day national summit) to visit with some great congressmen to tell them about FFA and to advocate Texas agriculture, to tell them some of our story and to let them know what we do.”
He not only wants to impart what he learns at this new level, but also encourage high school students flirting with the idea of maybe joining FFA to go for it.
“One thing I really want to say (to them) is that it doesn't matter who you are, there's a place for you at FFA,” he said. “Most people think it's cows and plows, but that blue jacket has never not hugged anybody who has put it on and zipped it up.”
In fact, his speech in running for state officer against 39 other FFA contenders dealt with that very thing: Being an 'untraditional ag kid.'
The nine-phase process involved interviews, tests, writing prompts and ultimately, a speech to 14,000 convention attendants, he said.
“My mother was very happy, very proud of me, because (participating in FFA) was something I've dreamed of,” he said. “I set a goal, and because we don't come from that (agriculture) background, she was very supportive, she was very proud that I had reached these goals.”
As he makes his way through his first year of college, Neal predicts he will remain in heavy contact with his Jacksonville FFA family, “maybe even come down and present workshops for them,” he said. “It's all about giving back.”
According to the Texas FFA Association, the new state officers for the 2019-20 school year are President: Area II – Carlye Winfrey, Seminole FFA; First Vice President: Area VIII – Calvin Morgan, Waco Midway FFA; and State Vice Presidents for Area I – Wyatt Harlan, Slaton FFA; Area III – Hollie Berg, Pearland FFA; Area IV – Jake Bagby, Stephenville FFA;
Area V – Dawson Killen, Crandall FFA; Area VI – Tracy Branch, Chapel Hill Northeast FFA; Area VII – Clayton Elbel, Smithson Valley FFA; Area IX – Jeremiah Neal, Jacksonville FFA; Area X – Emma Mosley, George West FFA; Area XI – Addison Elstner, Weimar FFA; and Area XII – Breanne Bailey, Florence FFA.
Meanwhile, Jacksonville FFA students who were recognized during the recent convention include Lone Star FFA degree recipients, Alexis King, Jeremiah Neal, Caylee Sanford and Hailey Strom – Tristen Miles was unable to attend but was recognized.