South Dakota FFA convention: Wyatt DeJong gives keynote address |

South Dakota FFA convention: Wyatt DeJong gives keynote address

Wyatt DeJong, National FFA Central Region Vice-President from Winner, SD came home last week for the 2011 State FFA Convention held April 10-12, 2011. Since winning a spot on the national FFA Officer team, DeJong has traveled across the country and the globe promoting agriculture, educating FFA members and working to share the food production story with a wide-range of audiences.

DeJong spoke during the evening session on Monday, April 11 and was applauded with a long-lasting standing ovation. Here are the highlights from his keynote speech.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers,” listed DeJong. “We have all had superheroes in our lives that we have looked up to in life. For me, it was Inspector Gadget; I always looked up to him. And, I got to be a hero when I met my friend Zach. We got into really cool costumes; of course, we were 19 at the time, but we had a lot of fun. He was Spiderman; I was Superman. Zach taught me how to become a superhero.”

Talking about cartoon characters and superheroes might seem like a unique way to start a speech, but DeJong’s theme carried through his entire presentation to make a very strong point at the end.

“Superheroes have three main characteristics,” said DeJong. “First, they always try; second, they are aware; and third, they give. I grew up on a cattle ranch here in South Dakota, and for me, calving season was awesome. During that time, we had to catch and tag calves. One time I had a match up with 76, you know, with the type of mama cow that is way too overprotective of her calf.”

DeJong described how he had to separate the “Mama Grizzly 76” from her calf in order to tag is, and he said it took more than one shot to get the job done.

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“Sometimes, we need to put in the extra effort and try in order to get the job done and get the tag where it needs to go,” explained DeJong. “In life, we always have to try, but we also have to be aware.”

Moving onto his second point of being aware, DeJong told a story of being in an airport and going through security in Africa, on a trip he took last summer to help tribes learn to grow their own food and be sustainable for future generations. He saw kids playing soccer in a field, and they were so excited to meet Americans; he felt like a celebrity. Then, things changed when he went to a rice field.

“I saw three kids at the rice-field, and they were having just as much fun as the kids in the soccer field,” said DeJong. “The only difference was these kids didn’t have shoes. I couldn’t believe how happy they looked without something like shoes, which we all consider a basic essential. So, one night, we took a walk without shoes. We got a half-mile into it, and by then, my feet were dirty, itchy and in pain. I definitely didn’t feel like dancing and singing like the kids; I just wanted to get home, clean up and go to bed. When I went to Africa, I hoped to help the families. I didn’t realize that six year olds would be my biggest teachers. I still don’t understand what they are going through, but I’m becoming more aware.”

DeJong pointed out that superheroes don’t just go into a crime-fighting situation without being aware; they know what they are getting into. He rounded out his superhero theme with his final point – giving.

“Superheroes don’t just give; they give without question,” said DeJong. “Remember Zach? Well, Zach has down syndrome, and he’s a superhero. I thought I was doing a good thing by giving Zach my time, but I didn’t realize how much effort he put into making me feel special and important in his life. I had never felt so selfish in my thinking. I thought he needed something from me; instead, Zach spent time to make me feel special. He taught me what it means to give. To me, Zach combined all the things that make a great superhero. He tries. He is aware. Most importantly, he gives.”

DeJong drove his inspirational message home with this final quote.

“If we are going to get caught up in one person, it better not be ourselves,” he summarized. “It’s the little things in life like understanding how to be happy, giving to someone else, and the aspect of trying. We can be successful in this and become real-life superheroes. To do that, we must live a life full of trying, becoming more aware, and giving to others. That is how we become superheroes.”