2022-23 State Vice President Kirsten Kyger Delivers Retiring Address
The Power to Define
“Before I was born, it seemed as though my life had already been decided for me. I was born into a family with a long history of substance abuse, poverty, and incarceration. For most of my family, that was the life they were born into and that was the life they would live for until it was time for the next person in line. So I would ask myself, “what makes me any different?” I spent most of my childhood believing that because I came from nothing, I would always be and have nothing. There were minimal opportunities for children like me who had no role models, who were in and out of foster care, who moved all the time because my family couldn’t afford our own home, and who had no reason to hope or expect anything more than the life I was given. My brain and society programmed me to believe that this would always be my life. I mean, what else was I supposed to think? I was reading the research of generational patterns in families and taking note of the percentages and statistics that all told me I would only become exactly what I was born into. Before I was even born, the odds were already stacked against me.
After being fully convinced that this would be my life, I had no choice but to accept it. I knew deep down I wanted more for myself, but I also knew that the life I wanted so desperately would only be possible in my wildest dreams because just like society said, I was the next person in line in my family’s never-ending cycle. But, what if that was all wrong? It was a normal day in my life. I got up, went to school, learned a little bit, got on the bus, and went home. as usual, my family couldn’t afford to pay the electricity bill so I walked into the living room that was lit by the sunlight peeking in through the windows. I sat down next to my mom and was met with a unexpected conversation that I will never forget. My mom looked at me and said, “I’m sorry.” I was so confused, and when I couldn’t think of any reason for her to be apologizing, I asked, “What talking about? You didn’t do anything.” I watched as the tears began welling up in her eyes as she replied, “I’m sorry I couldn’t give you the life you deserve. You have something to offer the world, go out and make something of yourself, for yourself. Don’t let the life you were given be the one you think you have to live.” I didn’t realize the power of my mom’s words until a few years later after she passed away. My mom helped me realize that the issues that ran for generations in my family, could be stopped the second they ran into me. In the midst of feeling lost without my mom, her words helped me find hope, a new perspective, and the ability to begin searching for the person she knew I could become. In that moment, I realized that we may be born into a certain life, but what we choose to make of that life is where we can find our power to define. What I didn’t know, was that I would soon define myself as one of the few in my family to graduate highschool, the first person in my family to ever go to college, and the first in my family to be a member of the National FFA Organization.
Now, I wasn’t always “Kirsten, the Kansas FFA State Vice-President”. For most of my FFA career, I was “Kirsten, the student who put my ag teachers to the test because I had zero connection to agriculture”. If I’m being honest, I stuck out like a sore thumb in all of my ag classes. I mean, just think about, I didn’t have a traditional ag background, I didn’t like country music, and I didn’t dress like any of my classmates! I truly believed that my success in the FFA was determined by how well I fit the sterotypes that had been placed on this organization. However, my three amazing ag teachers saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. They invested in me and helped me realize I was never defined by my background, the music I listened to, the clothes I wore, or the struggles I had faced. FFA opened the door of opportunity and became the place where I was able to define myself as Kirsten, an FFA member; the first version of myself that I got to create, that wasn’t attached to any of the things that I once thought defined me. Just as my mom hoped, I finally found the place that allowed me to find myself.
As I kept walking through door after door of opportunities in FFA, I eventually walked through the door of a summer leadership conference where I was met by a member whose story would leave a lasting impact on me. During the conference, this member was quiet and hesitant to get involved. So, I took it upon myself to get to know him a little bit more and soon realized,
his hesitation to be involved was influenced by something much bigger than being shy. This member shared with me that over the last year, he had experienced an overwhelming amount of bullying and discrimination by other members because he was an LGBTQ+ FFA member. He also shared how excited he was to learn more about agriculture and be apart of this organization. Unfortunately, the words of others caused that excitement and willingness to be involved to no longer exist. He shared that he had actually spent the last few weeks thinking about quitting FFA because he felt like he would never be accepted for who he truly was. He felt that no matter what he did, how he chose to identify himself would matter more to others than his love for agriculture and the FFA.
It broke my heart to know that there are people in this organization that feel like they do not belong. I couldn’t help but think of how I felt when I didn’t fit in, when I was convinced that my worth and my future was defined by the things in my life I couldn’t control. After our conversation, this member not only felt empowered, but realized he was surrounded by fellow members who valued and welcomed him. Instead of letting the words of others determine who he could be in this organization, he choose to define those things for himself. I am so glad that he went through the rest of the conference as the version of himself that he got to create, that he worked to become which was a proud FFA member.
Have you ever felt like my friend from the summer leadership conference? That cripplig fear of judgement that keeps you from being the most authentic version of yourself? The feeling that the things you can’t control in your life have more power over who you are than yourself? Have you ever felt like something or someone else in your life was defining you? FFA members, what is defining you? If I asked you to tell me WHO you are, could you do it without telling me WHAT you are? Let me ask you that again, If I asked you to tell me WHO you are, could you do it without telling me WHAT you are? You see, the people in your life, your experiences, your past, your weaknesses, your race, your gender, who you love, and so much more can be used to shape or describe WHAT you are, but they do not define WHO you are.
If we remember anything from our time together tonight, remember this, “The person I am today and the person I am going to become is defined by me.” Hold on to this statement. Take out your phones and go directly to the camera app. Take a picture of the screen behind me and return your attention back to the stage. Reflect on your life and what this statement means to you. When you leave convention and are going through all the photos filled with the many memories you’ve made over these next three days, I hope you come across this statement and it serves as your reminder of who defines you.
Kansas FFA, you are more than the life you were given. You are more than the words of others. You are more than your struggles. You are more and you have the power to embrace that. You have the power to choose your path in life, You have the power to determine your worth, You define who you are. Just like my mom told me, you all have something to offer this world, go out, and make something of yourself for yourself. The person you are today and the person you are going become is defined by you. Kansas FFA, you have the power to define you!“