Forty-One Words (11/20/2020)

When we teach our students about the FFA we emphasize the creed, describe the mission, identify the colors, and teach about the important dates associated with our history. However, there are 41 words spoken at an FFA meeting that we rarely, if ever, mention.

During my career, I have been honored to serve as the national president of four professional organizations but the presidency that made the most impact on my life was serving as President of the Lampasas (TX) High School FFA Chapter. At the close of each chapter meeting I would state:

We are about to adjourn this meeting of the Lampasas Chapter of the Future Farmers of America. As we mingle with others, let us be diligent in labor, just in our dealings, courteous to everyone and, above all, honest and fair in the game of life. Fellow members and guests, join me in a salute to our flag.

You will recognize these words as part of the closing ceremony for FFA meetings. They have not changed much since they first appeared in the 1929-30 FFA Manual:

We are about to adjourn this meeting of Chapter _______. As we join with our fellow students and classmates, let us be diligent in labor, just in our dealings, and in all things be honest, and above all, play the game fair. Fellow members, join me in a salute to our flag.

These basic words have been repeated millions of times since 1928 but have we really looked closely at these words? I took these words to heart as an FFA president and they have served as the marching orders for how I conduct my life. It would be fitting for us to emphasize these 41 words when we teach our students about the FFA.

In this Friday Footnote, we will focus on these 41 words from the FFA closing ceremony. I call them our FFA Marching Orders.

The 41 Words

As we mingle with others – The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines mingle as “to come into contact”. FFA members could and should be in contact with classmates and people in the community. Our FFA members can be agricultural ambassadors. We are to go out into the world.

In the early days of the FFA, farmers were often isolated and didn’t come into contact with many people. Part of the reason was the distance between farms, lack of good roads, and transportation. However, farmers were also viewed as being backward, uneducated, and lacking in social skills. They were considered second-class citizens. They weren’t minglers.

When FFA began, there was a concerted effort to help FFA members shed their country bumpkin image (see the Friday Footnote about Henry Groseclose). One of the reasons the name Future Farmers of Virginia (the model for the FFA) was chosen was because the initials FFV also stood for First Families of Virginia, a highly respected organization of prominent families in Virginia. The goal was to get the agricultural students to be proud of their heritage just like the First Families of Virginia.

The early FFA members were learning new agricultural skills and they were encouraged to share their knowledge with their fathers, neighbors, and others. We need to continue to inspire our students to be “a part” of the agricultural world and society and not “apart.”

Let us be diligent in labor – I genuinely like the vice-president’s statement in the FFA opening ceremony – “Without labor, neither knowledge nor wisdom can accomplish much.” How true!

When I wrote about the FFA Chapter Houses in a recent Friday Footnote I was amazed at how hard the FFA members worked at building those houses. Cutting down large trees with handsaws, trimming them, and then hauling the logs 50 miles with a team of horses was nothing. Transporting large rocks for the foundation and walls 30 miles in horse-drawn wagons was not anything special. The early FFA members knew the value of hard work. If something important is to be accomplished, it does require work.

Back in the 1960s, and perhaps before, Purina provided FFA chapters with “words of wisdom” posters printed on poster stock (see below). My ag teacher created a display box to display these posters. A job assigned to one of the students was to move the card in the front of the display to the back every morning, and thus reveal the new saying for the day.

If we had these Purina signs today, I would suggest some of the following quotes:

“Dreams Don’t Work Unless You Do.”

“You Get What You Work For, Not What You Wish For.”

“The Only Place Where Success Comes Before Work is in the Dictionary.”

We need to continue to emphasize the importance of doing a day’s work for a day’s wage. Nothing in life is free.

Figure 1. Some of the original Purina motivation posters.

Just in our dealings –In our interactions with others, we should not take advantage of them. Recently, the gentleman across the street from me died (cancer). His garage was full of tools including a Craftsman table saw. I had used the saw from time to time. Several months after his passing I went on eBay to see what used Craftsman table saws were selling for. I found comparable models, noted the price, and downloaded the images. I then printed out a page showing the saws and the asking prices. I gave this to his widow and then offered to buy the saw. I determined the average asking price and then added on $10. I could have just shown her the lowest price saw and offered her that and she probably would have accepted. However, I wanted to be just in my dealings with her.

Another way to verbalize this admonition is to state it as the Golden Rule – Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In 1898 J. C. (James Cash) Penny went to work for a dry goods store called the Golden Rule store. In 1907 he bought out the owners and started establishing other Golden Rule stores that later came to be known as JCPenney stores. Penney believed that the Golden Rule applied to all aspects of life, and he was driven by a mission to build a retail business using the Golden Rule as its philosophical cornerstone. An interesting side note is that a person named Sam Walton started working for JCPenney in 1940. Walton later went on to found Walmart.

Figure 2. The Golden Rule

Courteous to everyone – This is rather simple and is not hard to do. We should be nice to other people. We should not make fun of others. We should not call people names, but we should strive know their names. We should not mock others. We should not criticize. True leaders don’t do that. Many of us had mothers who admonished us – if you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.

There are hundreds of books about leadership. The one book that I think is the greatest leadership book of all is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. This book was first published in 1936 and is somewhat dated in the examples given, but the principles are just as true today as they ever were. The underpinning of the book is being courteous.

During my high school teaching career, this book was required reading in the Agricultural Business Management class which was primarily for the seniors. We would read one chapter a week and discuss it. The first three chapters focus on “Fundamental Techniques in Handling People.” The first chapter is titled, “If You Want to Gather Honey, Don’t Kick Over the Beehive.” In this chapter Carnegie states, it is counterproductive to criticize others. Criticizing people will not make them want to change and they will only justify their actions. The principle listed at the end of the chapter is Don’t Criticize, Condemn or Complain.

The title of the next chapter is “The Big Secret of Working with People” and the principle is Give Honest and Sincere Appreciation. The second section of the book is Titled “Six Ways to Make People Like You” and has six chapters. The third section (12 chapters) focuses on “How to Win People to Your Way of Thinking” and the final section (9 chapters) is “Be a Leader: How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment.”

The chapters are short and easy and interesting to read. If you haven’t read this book, you need to put it on your holiday reading list. Amazon gives it 4.7 out of 5 stars (based on 29,376 reviews) and some of the comments are “my eyes have been opened” and “I wish I had purchased this book sooner.” Used copies of How to Win Friends and Influence People can be picked up for a few dollars at most used book stores or from AbeBooks is an online network of used bookstores and has 1,617 copies of this book (as of 11/15/2020) starting at $2.49.

Figure 3. Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

And above all, honest and fair in the game of life. – I grew up in an era and area where a man’s word was his bond. If a person made a commitment or statement you could “take it to the bank.” People were trustworthy. Of all the attributes a person could have, being trustworthy is near the top of the list in my book.

We need to be honest with others. We need to tell the truth. We don’t want to be known as a liar. John Lennon stated “Being honest may not get you a lot of friends, but it’ll get you the right ones. Shakespeare put it another way – “No legacy is so rich as honesty.” Another quote I value is “Tell a lie once and all your truths become questionable.”

We shouldn’t cheat. Early in my teaching career the FFA officers came to me and wanted to know if we were going to apply for the state FFA safety award (which was an award in this state). I told the students we really hadn’t done anything special to merit the award. Their response was, “When Mr. X was our teacher, we always won that award.” I went to the filing cabinet, pulled out the past safety award applications, and gave them to the officers with the statement they could fill out the application if they thought we should. Later, they came back to me somewhat chagrined and said we didn’t do half of what was in the past applications. The teacher had “fabricated” many of the activities in the application.

I could cite numerous other examples of agriculture teachers stretching the truth and cheating to win at FFA related events. As teachers, we need to set the example and model what it means to be honest and fair in the game of life.

Figure 4. Words of Wisdom. Source unknown.

Fellow members and guest, Join me in a salute to our flag –

“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

During my professional career, I have been in hundreds of agriculture classrooms observing student teachers and working with agriculture teachers. Typically, the school day would begin with the Pledge of Allegiance. We end our FFA meetings with the Pledge of Allegiance, but do we ever focus on the words or just mindlessly recite them?

We should pledge allegiance to the United States. The United States is greater than any political party or person. Regardless of whom is president, or which political party is in power, our allegiance should be to our country. Our actions should focus on what is best for America. We need to truly be indivisible.

The phrase “with liberty and justice for all” fits in with the new Agricultural Education/FFA for ALL initiative. All Americans need to be treated fairly and equally. Likewise, agricultural education and FFA should be inclusive and welcoming to all people regardless of their labels.

Figure 5. Image from

Concluding Remarks

The rancor of the recent election has divided the country. It is time to heal. No matter whom you voted for, it is time to return to a “UNITED” States of America. Among the hubris surrounding the recent presidential election the 41 words spoken at the closing of FFA meetings kept appearing in my mind. Perhaps the healing process can start in our FFA chapters. As we move forward, we need to emphasize the 41 words from the FFA Closing Ceremony (including the Pledge of Allegiance) along with the 5th paragraph of the FFA Creed:

I believe that American agriculture can and will hold true to the best traditions of our national life and that I can exert an influence in my home and community which will stand solid for my part in that inspiring task.

It is time to return to the best traditions of our national life. Agriculture teachers and FFA members need to exert an influence in our homes and communities to reunite America. That is an inspiring task. But we are up to it.

Teaching Suggestion

As you teach your students about the FFA, consider emphasizing the statement from the FFA president at the close of the FFA meeting. After discussing the words of the president, I would suggest you create a one-page worksheet and have the students respond to the writing prompts. Here is what the worksheet looks like.

FFA Closing Ceremony Exercise

At the end of an FFA meeting, the chapter president states “As we mingle with others, let us be diligent in labor, just in our dealings, courteous to everyone and, above all, honest and fair in the game of life. Fellow members and guests, join me in a salute to our flag.”

  1. What does the word mingle mean? Why should FFA members mingle with others?
  2. What does “diligent in labor” mean? Why is this important?
  3. Give an example of how people can be just in our dealings.
  4. Why is it important to be courteous to everyone? What are the consequences of not being courteous?
  5. What does being honest and fair in the game of life mean?
  6. The salute to the flag is “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” In your own words, explain what this means

Figure 6. FFA members can lead the way in reuniting America. Image from the National FFA Organization.