Faulkner County’s Kinsey Watkins traveled to the 2017 National FFA (Future Farmers of America) Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana, recently and came home with the highest honor a member can earn.
Watkins, who has been involved in the organization since ninth grade, was one of 25 in the state of Arkansas and the only one in the county to be awarded the American FFA Degree, which is only awarded to members who have demonstrated the highest level of commitment to the institution and who havee made noteworthy strides in their SAE (supervised agricultural experiences), according to the FFA website.
The website also stated that less than 1 percent of members receive this degree.
"Being that this is the highest achievement an FFA member can be bestowed, it showcases the hard work and dedication that I had towards my SAE," Watkins said. "When I do something, I try to do my absolute best and put my whole heart into [it]. The American FFA Degree was something that I knew I wanted to achieve when I went to my very first National Convention."
She said watching other members walk across the stage and receive recognition because of their work was eye opening to her.
"In that moment, I knew that my goal was to develop a successful SAE so that I could be one of the few FFA members who would receive this outstanding honor," Watkins said.
Growing up, Watkins said agriculture was always part of her life.
"I was heavily involved in my local 4-H club, in which I showed livestock — market lambs and market goats — and had many leadership opportunities," Watkins said. "My involvement with showing livestock and leadership roles continued when I was old enough to become an active FFA member."
The 20-year-old from Guy remained an FFA member through high school and also served as the 2016-17 Arkansas FFA State President during her freshman year of college at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia.
"Being in FFA for so many years, I have had so many moments that I could consider my favorite," she said. "From the leadership campus, making countless lifetime friends, winning prepared public speaking and competing at the [national level] or the many memories and successes that I have had in the livestock show ring."
While these are all great memories, Watkins said her all-time most cherished memory was serving as the state president.
"This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I am so grateful to have experience it," she said. "Some of the opportunities that I received were hosting and facilitating leadership campus, traveling to Washington D.C. to speak with our senators and representatives, meeting an abundant amount of agriculture industry representatives an serving Arkansas FFA members."
Despite many thinking they have to own a farm to be in the organization, Watkins said that isn’t true and encourages others to get involved in the many other opportunities that FFA offers.
"FFA welcomes students who aspire to be farmers, doctors, business owners or even scientists," she said. "This is why FFA can be for anyone. FFA remains committed to the individual students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agriculture education. That is something that really inspired me to become heavily active in FFA."
Watkins, the daughter of Mitchell and Diana Watkins, said her parents have been her biggest supporters through the years and even attended the convention in Indiana when she received her American degree.
"I have always had an amazing support system that consisted of family and friends," she said. "I am so blessed to have them along with the countless others who have helped and supported me along the way."