For the first time in more than a decade, Jefferson County School District 509J and Madras High School will be represented on the Oregon FFA State Officer Team for 24-25. Taft Rice, a senior, was elected as the state sentinel at the annual state convention held in Redmond, Oregon last month. 

Rice will now dedicate the next year of his life to serving the goals, mission, and vision of Oregon FFA. To put this into perspective, Oregon FFA has 16,587 members stretching across 118 unique FFA chapters in 11 districts. Only six members are elected to state office.

His year of service started the day after the state convention. It was a long and often grueling process to make it to the final six. At the beginning of the convention, there were 21 candidates. The first round of cuts brought the list down to 16. The second round of cuts left only 10. Finally, the third and most exhausting round of cuts finalized the association’s state officer team for the next calendar year. 

“It was between me and one of my close friends,” Rice said. “It was my last opportunity to make the team and the past state sentinel went up and read my name off. I gave my buddy a big hug and ran up on stage. It was a thrilling experience, definitely a nerve-wracking one to say the least.” 

The moment on stage serves as the capstone for Rice’s FFA career. After bouncing around the thought of running, his idea was solidified last summer, shortly after the state fair. It was all thanks to the iconic blue jacket that Rice, and every other individual, wears as an FFA member, and his little sister.

“We’ve come home from the state fair and my sister tried on my FFA jacket and she said I want to do this when I’m older and that put the cap on it,” he said. “I was like I need to move forward with this and that’s when I decided I should run for state office.”

It’s fitting it was with the help of his blue jacket that solidified his choice to run for state office. Not many clubs, activities, or programs available to high school students are synonymous with a single piece of clothing, but FFA has the iconic corduroy blue jacket. It is a jacket that every single member dawns to show they are a part of the association. 

“Everyone from US Presidents to Taylor Swift has worn the blue jacket,” Madras High School Agriculture Teacher and FFA Advisor Lee Hofman said. “Everyone that has been in an FFA organization knows what that jacket means. Wherever a blue jacket goes, wherever you see those, you know that you’re looking at individuals who have committed time to working on premier leadership, personal growth, and career readiness.”

Now Rice will wear a blue jacket with the words “Oregon Association” on his back with the FFA emblem as he works with the slate of state officers to serve all Oregon FFA members. To get there though, Rice had to endure a rigorous interview process that pitted him against 20 other top-tier FFA members across the state. 

“It is miserable,” he said about the whole process. 

Rice first had to apply and submit a letter of intent complete with a personal story to announce his candidacy. After making it to the top 21 candidates, he started a two-day-long interview process that narrowed down the field. First up was a round-robin interview with the 11-person nominating committee for FFA. After that round, he did a behavioral traits interview so his skills and competencies in several areas of behavior could be analyzed. Next up was a member scenario interview, then a stakeholder interview, giving an extemporaneous speech, impromptu script reading, and group activity. 

Once all of those interviews and activities were complete, each candidate for state office was scored. The top 16 candidates, based purely on their point total, moved on to the next round. After more interviews and activities, the list was narrowed to the top 10. 

“They give you a piece of paper folded in half with a paragraph,” he said. “It says either thank you for your time or congratulations you made it and it’s just a folded piece of paper,” he said. 

The following morning, all top 10 candidates were required to give two-minute speeches to earn the delegates’ votes. Rice’s speech shared a personal story of his short football career that ended in only two snaps.

“The first snap being the ball, and the second snap being my leg,” he said on stage to the delegates. “Multiple doctor visits later, I learned my leg could be fixed but it would never be the same. After weeks of being stuck in hospital beds, physical therapy and training rooms, I was tired of feeling useless.”

He continued with his speech saying that it was during this time where he dedicated his time to writing speeches, improving his SAE (Supervised Agricultural Experience) and his overall attitude. This pivotal moment in Rice’s life served as an inspiration for him to better himself.

“Oregon FFA, let me help you blaze a trail into this upcoming year. Let’s take this next step together,” Rice said to cap his speech.

Once all the speeches are complete, the voting starts position by position. President first, Vice President after, and each round of voting happens until all six spots are filled. This part is one of the most taxing.

“When they’re announcing who won, they play the Chicago Bulls theme song and they turn all the lights off. It is literally the most horrifying experience of your entire life,” Rice said. 

Rice was in the front row at the First Interstate Bank Center seated next to the other candidates. They are seated together, holding hands, knowing what they’ve gone through just to get to this point, but also realizing that not all of them will hear their names called for state office.

He would hear the Chicago Bulls theme song repeatedly. He was in a run-off election for three positions including treasurer, reporter, and then sentinel which was the final position up for election. On his last opportunity, he made it through. After sitting through the theme song the final time, the previous state sentinel stepped to the podium and announced who won. 

“Your 2024-2025 State Sentinel is Taft Rice,” Mary Thiel said to the center.

Cheers roared through the center. Taft was elated. First, he hugged his buddy who he was running against. Then he ran up on stage, performed a cartwheel, hugged Thiel, and was ushered to a backroom to join the other candidates.

“It’s an amazing experience to be able to represent the district and the school,” he said. I’m thrilled to be able to represent the Central Oregon District. It’s an amazing opportunity, especially being from Madras.”

Taft’s primary responsibility over the next year will be to serve. Oregon FFA calls this a year of service to the Association. Officers can expect to spend more than 250 days away from home once they start their year of service. He will be on the road leading and facilitating trainings, workshops and leadership camps across FFA districts. Their goal is to move Oregon FFA forward and make sure members are getting what they need from the Association. 

“I have had a lot of state officers help me,” Rice said. “The main reason for me is to show kids how FFA is an exceptional thing and show them why it’s so important to be involved in FFA and how being involved can grow you as a person and get you prepared for the next stages in life. It teaches you important leadership roles that will benefit you for the rest of your life.”

His tentative calendar is set for the following year with events, activities, and speaking engagements that will require him to represent FFA at local, state, national, and even international activities. The role for all state officers at these events will be to inform, motivate, and inspire FFA members, advisors, teacher educators, sponsors, government officials, business and industry representatives, and more. The year of service started right after the state convention with new officer onboarding in Corvallis.

Hofman, Rice’s FFA advisor since 7th grade, has seen him grow firsthand into who he is today and acknowledges how he has flourished within Madras FFA’s chapter. 

“I am all but humbled to have been a part of that growth for him as his FFA advisor,” Hofman said. 

Some of Taft’s accomplishments throughout his time in FFA is a multiple year officer for the Madras FFA chapter and a district officer for Central Oregon District. He has also trained in agriculture sales, livestock judging, public speaking, soil analysis, and a variety of other areas in FFA. 

“I have absolutely no doubt that he is going to be a shining star, whatever it is,” Hofman said. “He has been a tremendous student in the ag program.”

Madras has had its fair share of state officers, but none since 2012-2013 when Ricky Molitor was elected. Rice joins a list of other state officers now that includes: Molitor, Ian Oppenlander, Christa Vibbert, Wiley Fortson, Katie Klann, Seth Klann, Larry Carpenter, Gary Richards, Kevin Richards and Ron Vincent. 

Rice’s term will continue until after the 2025 annual state convention. He is set to graduate from Madras High on June 8, 2024.



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