COLUMBUS — Aubrey Schwartz recalls being asked to recite the FFA Creed as a freshman in high school. “I panicked. I cried when I gave the Creed,” she said, noting that public speaking is regularly identified as many persons’ greatest phobia — and that was true for her.
“I didn’t want to do it. Now I’m speaking in front of 10,000 people — it’s crazy.”
The Washington Court House native went from that shy and reserved young teen to earning the American FFA Degree, the organization’s gold standard, and spending the past year serving as Ohio’s Future Farmers of America president. Her presidency culminates this week (today and Friday) when she presides at the 95th State FFA Convention at the Ohio Expo Center in Columbus.
“It’s been seven years wearing the blue jacket,” Schwartz said about the iconic attire that symbolically binds generations of FFA members from around the country. This year, she and her FFA leadership team visited more than 200 of Ohio’s 340 high school chapters, where they put the FFA motto, “Learning by Doing,” into practice by presenting workshops on communication and leadership for many of the state’s 27,703 FFA members.
“I’ve been advocating for ag education and showing the difference FFA can make in students’ lives,” she said. “I’ve been meeting ag students and teachers regularly for the last year. FFA is grooming leaders who will change the world.”
And no doubt, it’s an ever-hungrier world. “American agriculture has never backed down from a challenge,” she added.
As Schwartz looks back through her FFA journey, the anxiety she experienced surrounding reciting the FFA Creed at the Miami Trace High School/Great Oaks Chapter meeting proved pivotal. “That was a real moment of reflection in my life,” she said, adding it proved to be a motivating experience in developing self-confidence for leadership.
She didn’t win a chapter office that freshman year but persevered to serve as an officer during her sophomore and junior years, and she was elected chapter president as a high school senior while also competing in the National FFA Parliamentary Procedure Competition.
Schwartz did not grow up on a farm. Rather, her connection to agriculture was her family’s standardbred racehorse business. Her father is a fourth-generation horseman. Although she is “extremely allergic” to horses, she participated in the family business by creating a client billing system. Her other FFA Supervised Agricultural Experience was operating a rabbitry with her sister that featured more than 400 rabbits they bred and sold to 4-H and FFA members. Those ventures earned Schwartz an FFA award as among the top four in Ohio in Agricultural Services and Small Animal Production and Care.
In high school, Schwartz competed in the venerable Wilmington College Aggies’ Judging Contest, which typically draws more than 1,000 high school students to hone their skills in judging agronomy, equine, dairy and general livestock. That experience proved pivotal in her selection of a college.
“I always knew about Wilmington,” she said. “I visited the campus and academic farm and found out about the hands-on learning experiences available there. It had a hometown feel for me. I went on a few other college visits and none of them had the feel that Wilmington did.”
Schwartz was immersed in experiential learning opportunities from day one at WC. “For my first lab, we trimmed the toes on sheep and goats,” she said. “I’ve definitely experienced the hands-on in every class I’ve been in.”
Even though she took a “gap year” from her studies at WC while serving as FFA president this past year, Schwartz has kept a foot on the campus. She’s remained active with Sigma Alpha sorority and, prior to her election as FFA president last spring, the Aggies elected her as their president.
“The College trusted me and put their faith in me that I could do it — to effectively serve as Aggies and FFA president at the same time.”
Indeed, she led the Aggies in staging its largest Judging Contest ever when, on March 1, the 65th edition of the competition attracted a record-breaking 1,608 participants from Ohio and three neighboring states. “It was a special day for me when my two worlds collided — it was cool to see so many FFA members I’ve interacted with this year come to the Judging Contest,” she added.
As FFA president, Schwartz learned that WC alumni are teaching agriculture and advising FFA chapters around the state. “They always asked me about the College.” Speaking with those alumni also helped confirm her ambition to attain her degree in ag education and become a high school agriculture teacher and FFA adviser. She will finish her field placements and student teaching experience during the next two years and expects to graduate in 2025. In addition to Aggies and her sorority, she has been a member of the Honors Program, Greek Life Executive Board, Agriculture Education Society and Delta Tau Alpha Agriculture Honor Society.
Schwartz appreciates the paramount role that educating today’s youth will have on the future of American agriculture as the world leader.
“Ag education is important in growing our future,” she said. “If you don’t believe in the future of agriculture, you don’t believe in the future of anything.” Schwartz expressed this theme constantly in her role with the FFA leadership team.
The conclusion of her term as FFA president is no doubt bittersweet and provides an important milestone of accomplishment in her life. “I never thought this would ever be where I am today,” she said. “It’s an opportunity I’ve been very blessed to have had — FFA has changed my life! The opportunity to impact others has given me more enjoyment and created more relationships than I ever could have imagined.”
She has a word of advice for today’s high school students, whether they are already accomplished leaders or are that timid freshman in some FFA chapter in Ohio who trembles at the thought of reciting the Creed in front of others: “Remember where you come from and always look where you want to go!”