My Greatest Accomplishment

I’ve been known to be a girl who does too many things- at college, in high school, in my community, etc. I’ve always committed to organizations because of my genuine passion for what they do, love for meeting people, and desire to try new things. Sometimes, I keep saying “yes” and doing more. I’m a person who thrives in busyness. I thought happiness and fulfillment came from knowing a lot of cool people and doing a lot of things.

…until that changed. A couple of years ago, I got to a rough place of overcommitting myself to things I couldn’t do or handle in college. Much of it had to do with health issues and friendship struggles I was experiencing at the time, but I broke down. Multiple times. I had to do things differently because it was all too much. I removed myself from quite a few commitments, and things got much better for me.

To this day, I’m still removing myself from organizations and am doing less. It’s not because I don’t appreciate what I’ve been a part of, but it’s because I want to thrive at the few things I’m doing instead of spreading myself too thin. I’m at a place where I’ve prioritized my life better than ever, and I couldn’t be happier about it. But recently, after some reflection I learned that there’s another piece to the happiness I’m having right now in this season of life. This recent reflection and realization has come from my own thinking, prompted questions, and thoughtful words sent my way.

I’ve been asked in some interviews in the past few weeks about “my greatest accomplishment” and I’ve had to think about it and what’s on my resume. Every time though, I respond with describing my relationships with some of my mentees in an organization that I hold so close to my heart at Virginia Tech. My greatest accomplishment has been loving them, being loved by them, listening to them on hard days, laughing with them on the most joyful days, and being there for them everywhere in between. It’s not a “title” per se that I’m most proud of, it’s the relationships I share with those incredible people who make my life better everyday.

My old way of thinking of doing a lot of things would’ve prevented me from seeing my greatest accomplishment as loving, meaningful relationships, but this new understanding I’ve come to has allowed me to grasp what life is really all about. At the end of the day, it’s not roles, titles, awards, positions, or anything you can just “write on a resume” that brings you happiness or fulfillment. It’s love. It’s how you love on others and how they love on you, and it’s as easy as that.

So how does this relate to my current season of life? I’ve come to realize this even more throughout this month after the Agriculture Future of America (AFA) Leaders Conference that nine of my teammates and I hosted with AFA staff in Kansas City, MO. We worked so hard throughout the year to plan programming to meet the needs of our peers, and at the end of it, we were exhausted, emotional, and inspired. I don’t exaggerate when I say it was the best week of my life.

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Our team is called the AFA Student Advisory Team, and we serve AFA for a year. It’s similar to a national officer role, and in all honesty, it’s a big role that allows us to get a lot of attention at times. It can be easy to consider this title or role as our greatest accomplishment for speaking in front of 1,300 people on stage, representing a national organization, or facilitating in groups of nearly 250 people frequently. It sounds pretty cool, and it’s a blast.

But after our Leaders Conference, I’m going to change my answer to “What’s your greatest accomplishment?” to “Being on the AFA Student Advisory Team.” No, it’s not because our job is important or because we’re in the spotlight sometimes. It’s nothing to do with the title, or any of that.

Serving on AFA’s Student Advisory Team this year is my greatest accomplishment because of the love and purpose that surrounds our team and AFA as an organization. I could’ve never dreamed to become so close to people who are separated by thousands of miles, but my teammates have brought me so much happiness and joy that I can’t even explain it. Being loved by them this year and being able to love them with notes, jokes, or calls has been incredible.

But it doesn’t stop there, because the true sense of fulfillment comes from AFA staff, student leaders, delegates, and partners being so committed to a sense of purpose – of creating a stronger future for the world through the agriculture and food community. Being a part of a group that believes in the future of our world and that wants to be that future is unlike anything I can describe.

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Right now, in this season of life I feel inspired by the purpose and passion of others involved with AFA, fulfilled because of the hard work of my team coming together for an amazing Conference, and loved because of my team and the AFA delegates who are going to change this world one day. And I don’t know about you, but that’s better than anything I could write on a resume.

My greatest accomplishment isn’t a title, but it’s how that position allowed me to love on others and to receive the love of others. Maybe that’s how we should look at our accomplishments- not by their name, but by what they bring to our lives and how we can sprinkle joy and love into the lives of those around us.

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My History with AFA

Every year in college, I find myself wanting to learn more and to “do” more as I prepare for my post-graduate life. I’ve always been someone who understands that you have to make things happen in your own life and that things won’t just appear for you. A few years ago, I took that belief to heart, and little did I know that this attitude would expose me to an experience that would change my life.

My dad enjoys reading various farming magazines for him to learn from, and The Furrow, John Deere’s magazine, was one of them. In his reading of The Furrow that day in the fall of 2013, my dad stumbled across an article regarding a program that Agriculture Future of America, known as AFA, recently hosted. Because of my past involvement in agricultural organizations and my consistent desire to develop myself more and more, he thought this organization sounded perfect for me. At the time, I had no idea what the logistics of it all meant or what a “track” was, but I knew it sounded impressive and that I had to take the next steps to try to get involved.

At that point in the year, it was too late to apply for AFA’s premier event, AFA Leaders Conference, but I kept thinking about it until the next summer, when applications for it came out. I stayed in touch with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) at Virginia Tech and the staff at AFA, and helped us apply for a grant that helps universities build relationships and partnerships with AFA. Gratefully, we received the University Growth Initiative Grant that year, and Virginia Tech was able to send three CALS students to AFA Leaders Conference in November of 2014. I was selected with my friends Michael and Lester to attend, and since then, it’s been full speed ahead.

I’ve written about AFA on this blog before, and it’s now something that I spend a large portion of my time working with, promoting, and talking about. Just ask my friends –  from an average conversation with me, it’s easy to tell I love AFA and everything it stands for. My social media sites are blown up with AFA. It’s a huge part of me, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

From the very moment I stepactivateped into the Opening Ceremony of AFA Leaders Conference 2014, I thought “Wow, I do not deserve to be here. This is the best of the best in collegiate agriculturalists.” That statement and feeling was not a reflection of a lack of self-confidence, believe me. Rather, it was a hint at how incredibly impressive and elite AFA and its programs are.

That experience in Kansas City in November of 2014 reminded me so much of why I love agriculture and want to pursue it in the first place. It taught me about global and national agriculture in a way I had never been able to understand it before. It showed me that the community of people in agriculture and food is incomparable and is one of the strongest (and smallest) groups of people out there with a bond like no other. It introduced me to some of the most phenomenal young professionals and leaders I’ve ever met. It allowed me to see where I need to grow, but also where I succeed. It made me a better person, and from that first moment of “I don’t deserve to be here,” I’ve been hooked.

Last year, I had the opportunity to serve as an AFA Campus Ambassador for 2015, and I grew even more from that role alongside some of the best young agriculturalists in the nation. My leadership skills were put to the test, my confidence was increased, and my passion for agriculture and for working with students continued to grow. With a lot of hard work and collaboration with CALS, we were able to send 10 Virginia Tech students that year to Leaders Conference, and since then, our involvement with students from VT continues to grow with each and every program we host.

Again, AFA Leaders Conference last year changed my life and really fueled the fire more for me to be forward-thinking about this industry. It exposed me to even more amazing people who are some of the most influential people in my life. The speakers changed my outlook on things like personal finance, accepting job offers, trusting others, and managing change in my own life. And just when I thought things couldn’t get better in AFA, they did, and still do every single day.

Now in 2016, I’m honored to serve on the Student Advisory Team for AFA, which is a group of 10 students who plan and facilitate Leaders Conference, and help serve the organization as ambassadors in all that we do. It’s been about four months since we took on this role, and it has been the best thing I have ever done, hands down. We’ve been planning AFA Leaders Conference for months and are ecstatic that it’s going to be the biggest and best one ever, where we will bring together about 800 of the best students in agriculture and food and help them develop themselves, both personally and professionally, through workshops, listening to speakers, and exposing them to networks and future opportunities.

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Although I’m incredibly biased about how wonderful AFA is, I want you to know that it has changed the lives of over 13,000 students in the country, too. The experiences and connections AFA provides the young people in our industry is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in another organization. It’s something that can do amazing things for you, if you just give a little bit to it. That’s my history with AFA, and I encourage you to start writing yours.

So if you’re an undergraduate student pursuing an agriculture or food related degree and you’re interested in bettering yourself for college and your future career, AFA programs are calling your name. We are here to help you become the best you can be, while meeting others who can support you and encourage you in ways you may not know you need.

Applications for sponsorship to AFA Leaders Conference 2016 are due on 9/9 , and you can find the application here. Your application is just a step towards you building more bridges – to your future, to other people who share the same passions as you, and to opportunities that are awaiting you. Our theme this year is “History Starts Now,” so why wait any longer to write yours?

 

“Freedom Is Not Free”

“Freedom is not free.”

This quote lines the wall at the Korean War Memorial in Washington D.C. It’s a quote I get to see every week, and a quote that allowed me to begin to understand the United States of America in a way I never had before.

Living in our nation’s capital has already been an eye-opening experience for me. Not only have I gotten to experience the real “city” way of life of hundreds of thousands here in the District, but I’ve come to understand our country better than ever. Something that has stuck out to me is the cost of our freedom here. While learning about our memorials and wars – from Vietnam and Korea to WWII – I’ve realized that we are beyond lucky to be in a country where we have the freedom that we do, and we’re even more fortunate to have people who believe in that freedom that they would give their lives for people they don’t even know.

Last night, my fellow Program Assistants and I went to the National Memorial Day Concert on the West Lawn of the Capitol. At first, I was most excited to see The Beach Boys, Trace Adkins, and Trent Harmon. We endured the pouring rain to experience this since we weren’t sure when we’d get another chance to again. I went into it thinking that the concert would be fun and that we were there to enjoy ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, The Beach Boys are always fun and they definitely were, but as soon as the service & program started, I quickly learned that I was selfish to ever think that the concert would be a fun concert primarily for the viewers there and watching on TV. The concert was not at all for its viewers to sit back and to just have a good time, like Memorial Day weekend has seemed to come to be for many around the country. The concert was held and so widely broadcasted to help the nation understand how absolutely incredible it is that we get to live in this country because of the brave people who fight for us every single day, and suffer because of their fighting when they come back.

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At the concert, we were surrounded by Veterans and active members of the military on the lawn and hearing them proudly sing their branch’s song and seeing them be so affected by the stories that were shared helped me understand it all. I don’t come from a military family, and I didn’t grow up with many people who served in the armed forces, so I never quite “got” it. But I caught a glimpse into what Memorial Day truly honors last night, and it was life-changing, despite how cliche it sounds. My image on our country has changed forever.

We’re a country that others look to. Maybe that’s because of our resources, our advances in technology and science, or our strong industries. I used to think the United States was the greatest country in the world because of what we can do as a nation, how influential we can be, and how we have the ability to make positive change. Now I see this differently. When I think of why the United States of America is so extraordinary, I picture the Arlington National Cemetery and the hundreds of thousands of Americans laid to rest there who gave their lives for something they believed in. The selflessness of the men and women who give it all for us to have the ability to contribute to our nation in a way many of the world’s citizens cannot is something we’ll never be able to fully grasp. That’s why I’m grateful I’ve gotten to understand it even a little bit so far this summer.

Our freedom is nothing to take lightly. I’m proud to be an American, not just because of living in the greatest country in the world, but because we live with some of the most brave, selfless, and phenomenal people in the world who believe in the country and what we stand for. And for that, on this Memorial Day, and every day, I’m eternally thankful.

Take a moment to remember how blessed you are to be an American today, and please remember to never forget those who allow us to be free day in and day out.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

-John 3:16

Leaving His Legacy, Not Mine

I find myself always questioning what legacy I can leave- on this university, on my friends, and on the world. I ask myself “What can I do that will stay around forever? What can truly make a difference? How can I change one thing for the better?” I know I’m not alone in this forward thinking.

When we ask ourselves these questions, though, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. We think we need to change the world, because we’ve grown up thinking that we are capable of that. I’m not disagreeing, but we think of the world as a whole when we say that. Truthfully, however, you’re changing the world if you just change one person’s heart or impact one’s life for the better. It all starts with one, doesn’t it?

In college and even high school, many people see “leaving a legacy” as titles in organizations on or off campus. Sometimes people think that the more titles you have, the “cooler” you are and the more that you’re giving to people or the more that you’re “serving.” I’m here to argue against that.

I come from a place of experience when I say the more titles you have, the less you’re truly serving. Granted, I don’t think this is true in every case; of course, there are exceptions. You don’t have to agree with me, either. Some people can handle a lot of roles and titles, but most people do less and less in each commitment in order to be able to do “more” things. But from my past 5 or 6 years of experience in high school and at college, the more I’ve tried to do in organizations and the more I’ve tried to “serve,” the less I’ve been successful in really making the impact that I should be making, or leaving the legacy that I truly want to leave, and the less I was serving the Lord through those roles and experiences. I disguised joining organizations, titles, and how many people I’ve met with what my real legacy can and should be.

Here’s a quick thought I’ve had about “serving” through a large number of titles: Remember that service is in your heart. You don’t need anything else. You don’t need a title. In fact, many people who hold a whole list of titles don’t actually make the impact that someone without a title can (again, coming from experience, being that person and knowing that person). Titles are essentially nothing if you don’t use them to your best ability and for a greater purpose. Consider these questions: Who are you without your organizations, your positions, your roles? Could someone tell who you really are just by having a conversation with you or by learning your dreams, or do you hide behind a resume?

Walking home today I came to realize that I’ve had a few ideas for what I want my legacy to be here at Virginia Tech. I’ve thought about my passions, my experiences, and what I still would like to do that I haven’t yet. I considered the people I’ve met and how I’ve changed because of them. However, I soon realized that I don’t want to leave my legacy, I want to leave the Lord’s legacy. I don’t want to do something that’s “big” enough for people to remember my name for my sake. I don’t want people to be impacted by me because of something I did, but I want them to be impacted by me because of the love of Jesus Christ shining through me. I don’t owe the world a legacy with my name on it, but rather a legacy that is entirely in honor of and in glorification of the Lord.

A phenomenal friend of mine talked me through a tough time a few months ago when I was spread too thin in my involvements. She had been through something similar and reminded me that all I needed to do was to do things through Jesus, not because I’m required by Him to have any titles. The only title I need is “believer” in the love of the Lord, in His works, and in His planned legacy. I’ve cut back in my involvements ever since that conversation so that I can do a better job to focus on my relationship with the Lord and to let the love that Jesus Christ let shine in His relationships actually shine in mine. I pray everyday to love others as Jesus first loved me, and I pray it for others to do that, too.

Now I’m more confident than ever that no matter what awesome experience I have or how many people I know, that it is how I use the Lord’s love through me and what I do that will be my legacy. It’s not about me, it’s about Him and how much He loves us.

I’ll conclude with a verse I read every morning before Orientation that encouraged me to let my work be the Lord’s. I hope you like it.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

-Colossians 3:23-24

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Listing the Lessons from 2015

In 2015, I learned so much about the importance of reflecting on myself and my life. This blog post is putting that to practice and will walk you through some of the lessons I’ve learned as a twenty year-old, and some advice I’d like to impart on you.

Looking back, I can confidently say that 2015 was the best year of my life and the one in which I’ve grown the most. But don’t let that fool you; 2015 was also the hardest year of my life. I’ve never laughed as much as I did this past year, nor have I ever broken down in tears as much as I did. I don’t think I’ve ever struggled in so many ways as I did this year. I had health issues from January until about April, got myself in some difficult situations in relationships and organizations, and felt lower than I had in a long time. But, as my friend reminded me a few months ago, sometimes you have to fall on your knees in order to look up. I believe that more than ever and am so grateful God brought me to that breaking point in order to be who I am now. Plus, I strongly believe that you best learn by doing (I guess that’s the 4-Her inside of me).

2015 was a year of struggles and challenges that have made me better and stronger. Although that sounds dark, I’m incredibly thankful for the hardships I faced because they taught me about myself, my faith, my relationships, and showed me the goodness of God. Because of the hardships I faced in 2015, I learned:

  • The importance of honesty with yourself and with others
  • The power of prayer
  • What love is – on so many levels (family, friends, etc. )
  • The need for a time to check out & how refreshing that can be
  • The vitality of reflection
  • Who I am as a Christian, student, friend, leader, and person
  • How one person’s smile can change everything
  • How to say no
  • What matters at the end of the day is how you make a person feel, not every word of what you say
  • The power of investing in people
  • Doing less (organizations, jobs, etc.) is actually doing more for others – investing in deeper relationships and jobs while doing a better job
  • What forgiveness really is
  • Think big picture – petty drama won’t matter in 15 years

On a positive note, 2015 is when my dreams came true and I met some of the best people who have ever existed. I have made friends all around the country who have encouraged me, inspired me, and allowed me to grow in ways I never imagined I could or needed to. They’re my favorite parts of 2015. The love I felt this year was incomparable to anything I’ve ever experienced, and I couldn’t be more grateful for any of it. The world is full of beautiful people, and I see that every single day. Thanks for being one of them.

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Because of all that happened this year, I learned that I always am trying to improve myself because of my love for inspirational quotes and learning. So going along with that, I’d like to help you try to be a better you this year with a few pieces of advice that I wish I had been given in the last couple of years. Here are a few things that I’ve learned from my own journey and from the wonderful people in my life:

  • You choose your attitude. What happens to you doesn’t define you, but how you react to it does.
  • Don’t forget that you know yourself better than anyone else knows you – be comfortable with your decisions, because you’re the one who will have to live with them and their consequences.
  • Never apologize for being who you are or for being honest. Both are a gift to the world.
  • Know that you must love yourself and be healthy on your own in order to be in a healthy relationship– friendship, family, or relationship. “You will only accept the love you feel inside.” And a healthy relationship with anyone means that you are secure and strong in your individuality but are even better together- not with dependency on one another.
  • Stand up for yourself. No one else will if you don’t.
  • Be honest with yourself and others.
  • Everyone is struggling in some way- but our struggles all look very different, so…
  • Never compare your journey to another person’s. 
  • You are not better than anyone, and no one is better than you. End of story. Simply put, “no one > you > no one“.
  • Turn your phone off for at least an hour a day.
  • Tell people how much they mean to you and how they’ve impacted you.
  • Know where your mind wanders– then pursue that.
  • Hand-written notes are awesome and go a long way. You’ll feel good writing one or receiving one.
  • Don’t underestimate the impact you can have on a person with every interaction.
  • Being a friend can be the hardest hat you wear. Don’t underestimate the value in a true friendship.

In case you’re curious of how I’m going to keep up this self-improvement trend, aside from the stereotypical “eat healthier, work out more, be positive” resolutions, I have a few I’m going to work on in 2016 to make it (and me) the best it (/I) can be. They are:

  • Social media and my presence on it does not define me – spend time with nature and others before you spend time with social media
  • Care less about what others perceive or think
  • Make your relationships more Christ-like and centered – truly ask yourself “What would Jesus do?”
  • Trust in God’s plan for you and where you’ll be, even when you have no clue where that is
  • Don’t be afraid to smile at someone and to say hi
  • Pray more – you’ll be glad you did
  • Don’t wait to do something, because you’ll never do it

I’m going to BELIEVE in 2016: in God’s plan for me for now and in the future, in other people and their abilities, in myself and what I can do, in God more deeply and His strength, in the power of prayer, and in the power of loving others.

Happy new year. Stay golden.

To My Family Farm

Earlier this month at the AFA Leaders Conference, I was in a workshop about succession planning, or planning for the future of a family farm. It forced me to think about what will come in the future for my family’s home farm, but it made me consider even more of what the farm has been in the past for me.

As farmers, we have a lot of connection in our lives. We’re connected to our animals and crops, to the rest of the agriculture community, to the food we produce, to our families who work beside us, and to the land we live on and take care of. Our connection to the land is one of the strongest. Some say that farmers don’t care about the land and are consistently aiming to make it most productive, without considering impacts of our seemingly “bad” practices. This could not be further from the truth, I’ve learned, because farmers are the primary stewards of the land. It’s their livelihood, their pride and joy, and their past, present, and future.

It’s because of this strong care for the land that proves how much a farm can mean to a farmer. That’s why I’d like to thank my family’s farm for all it’s done for me.

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To my family farm:

Everyday you get smaller and smaller to me. You’ve been where I’ve grown up, both physically and as a person. You’ve allowed me to grow with you. You’ve been a friend I can always depend on and find peace in. You’ve been my escape route many times, from being younger and wanting to run away from my parents after an argument, to my place to hide away from the mean girls of middle school, to where I’ve finally found comfort after a incredibly hard season in my life with school and health issues. You’ve always made me feel better. And although I’m not always with you, you’re like a friend I don’t have to always see, but I know whose love and spirit is always with me.

Even though I’ve felt the most safe with you and I can call you home, you’ve gotten me to experience some of the scariest times, too. You’ve let me experience loss, whether that’s through an animal’s death, workers leaving, farms disappearing, or the presence of agriculturalists in the country shrinking. When my dad had his accident, my family went through a lot. Because of that and the tough times within the industry and prices fluctuating, I’ve become stronger, and my family has, too.

I take what I’ve learned from you with me every single day. You’ve taught me about hard work in the frigid cold and in the sizzling heat. You’ve shown me the politics of the real world when our neighbors didn’t like what was happening with what we were doing, especially when it comes to manure management. You’ve shown me what it’s like to have real privacy when you hid our house behind acres and acres of tall corn. You’ve taught me that I always should wear boots and I should never get too attached to any article of clothing, because it’s doomed to get ruined at some point. You’ve taught me that waking up early is the best way to start your day. It’s when nature is the only one awake with you.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that there is nothing like one of your sunsets. Watching a sunset with the rolling hills with cows and crops filling the view has become my favorite sight. Sitting in the silence with this view is where I do my best thinking and praying. It’s where I connect with God most, where I rediscovered my faith, and where I feel the most whole. I never feel like I’m completely myself until a visit with you.

You’ve given me a connection to my family, even to the ones I never got the chance to meet. You’ve given me room to learn about myself through our adventures and work and about the world through your beautiful features. You’ve given me my best friends who fill my heart with incredible joy. You’re the perfect home for my four-legged friends, my family, and I.

Your changing landscape has proven the continuum of change in agriculture, especially in the United States. From beginning as a swine farm to now a creamery focused in agri-tourism with a new farm brewery coming up, you’ve seen it all, but that’s how agriculture is these days. I wish I could go back to our most exciting days of milking and feeding calves every day, but I now know that there comes a time for everything, and that’s not where we are right now as a family or a business.

You’ve shown people what American agriculture is. You’ve allowed the public to understand where their food comes from. You’ve allowed people to meet and pet their first cow. You’ve changed lives for hundreds and hundreds of people.

Thank you for all that you’ve taught and given me, and for connecting me to my family, this industry, and one of my greatest passions- agriculture. I am who I am because of you, and you’ll always be the real “home” to me, no matter where I go.

I don’t know where I’ll end up or where the future will take me, and it pains me to say that to you. But I will forevermore be thankful for what you’ve been and what you’ve become. I’ll do everything I can to protect you and to save you, which after all, is just returning the favor after all these years.

What TEDxVirginiaTech Means to Me

I remember doing my first demonstration in 4-H when I was eight years old. It was a demonstration on how to fit a dairy cow for a show, but I did it without a cow. I solely and nervously used my words to explain the uses of everything from Pledge to baby wipes on a cow on show day. Leading up to it, I was dreading every moment I’d have to speak and hated the fact that I had to talk in front of people. I wanted my mom’s help. I wanted my brothers to do it for me. I wanted out of it. I’ll never forget that feeling.

Luckily, 4-H forced me over and over again to do these demonstrations and to speak in front of people. When I got to high school, I became comfortable with it and was actually pretty good at public speaking, and I learned that I really liked it, too. I was engulfed by motivational speakers and inspiring speeches and realized how much I had a passion for it. During this time where my interest in public speaking was climbing, I realized what I want to do for the rest of my life- to be a mentor for youth ages 14-19 to help them stay on the right path. It’s a vulnerable time in someone’s life, and I want to help young adults see the best in themselves and be a mentor for them, since I’ve had so many incredible mentors who have gotten me to where I am today. And if I’m lucky, I’ll be able to use 4-H or other agriculture programs as a means to do that.

As my interest in speaking rose, it clicked for me that motivationally speaking would be everything that I want to do. I could inspire others, help them see the best in themselves, and focus on youth and agricultural audiences. It sounded like a dream, and it still does.

This dream, as many do, sounds so far away. When I look at speakers like Josh Shipp, I think there’s no way I can get to where he is. I thought I’d never have a chance to even reach an audience like he has, thousands of times in a row. However, the opportunity arose this spring to nominate myself or to be nominated for a TEDxVirginiaTech talk. If you don’t know what a TED Talk is, check it out here. Thousands of new, innovative ideas are shared every year via this international platform and program. I have watched hundreds since they’re so inspiring and fascinating.

I knew I couldn’t let the opportunity of a lifetime slip away, so I nominated myself for a Talk. I applied, was asked to an interview, and then was offered the opportunity that I’ve been dreaming of for years. With this TEDxVirginiaTech talk, I had the chance to speak to an audience of thousands of people around the world via the internet, on top of the hundreds in the Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech. I had the opportunity to reach one of my wildest dreams at 20 years old at one of my favorite places in the entire world. I was selected to be in a lineup of 10 speakers, all of whom were phenomenal faculty members of the Virginia Tech community. I was given a microphone from which I could share my story about agriculture and service, and connect it to Virginia Tech. If you know me at all, absolutely nothing could beat this. This opportunity meant the world to me.

So this happened on November 19th, 2015, only three days ago. I had been working on my Talk since May during the application process and I’ve been praying about it since then.  It’s hard to grasp that it’s over. I am not lying when I say that I cannot believe this happened. I am still in shock that I spoke at a TEDx event about the most important things in the world to me- service and Ut Prosim (“That I May Serve”), 4-H and agriculture, and of course, my cow, Ethel. I wish I had the words to express how I feel, but I don’t.IMG_6096

On the stage, I spoke for almost nine minutes. Those few minutes are some that I will always remember, but even now, looking back, to an extent I can’t even remember them. It was such a whirlwind and was so much fun that I can’t even recall if I messed up or not. The feeling is what I think will always stay with me. That feeling is what makes me want to keep speaking, in any fashion. I don’t need a red carpet or the “TEDx” name in order to impact people, but I’m so grateful that I had that opportunity. This experience makes me want to do this forever.

Although I’m at a loss for words (and probably will be for a while), one jumps out to me: thankful. I am SO thankful. I’m thankful for the chance to have shared my message, for the love I was showered with from my friends and family before, at, and after the event, for a story to share that can touch people’s hearts, for teaching me what “service” and Ut Prosim mean, for the ability to confidently speak in front of a crowd, for those who have believed in me and encouraged me since that scared eight year-old gave her first 4-H presentation, the experience I had in Tanzania, for my family coming to see it, and for finding something I’m so passionate about. I could keep going on and on, but to say it simply, I’m thankful. I’m loved. I’m blessed. I’m lucky.

I’d like to say thank YOU, for everything I just said, but for being a part of this experience with me. I’ve never felt as loved as I did on Thursday night. From the flowers and the unbelievable cheering to the encouraging messages and hugs to calm my nerves, I can’t thank you enough. You are what I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving week.

As I said in my Talk, service is synonymous with love, and I have been graciously served this week by all of my loved ones. Thank you for embodying Ut Prosim, for loving me endlessly (for reasons I can’t always understand), and for letting me talk about Ethel again.

So much love for all of you.

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What I Learned When I “Fell Off the Face of the Earth” For a Week

For the past week, some people have thought I’ve fallen off the face of the earth. I am writing this to ensure you that this myth is not true and that I, in fact, am still kickin’. However, I did turn my phone off and refrained from using social media for the past week, so if you really did think something happened to me, rest assured that I’m alive, okay, and still in Blacksburg.

Why did I do this? There is a plethora of reasons I decided to take the week “off” from social media and my phone, a lot having to do with taking some time for me, focusing on my school work, and really thinking about my relationships with friends and even Jesus. I also took a step back from committing myself to seeing other people and scheduling meetings to really milk this experience for all it could have been (and was) worth.

Was it hard? Absolutely. There were many times when I thought to myself, “It would be so easy if I could just text ________ right now.” It’s no secret to anyone that technology has made our lives so much easier. But this week for me has been one of the best weeks I’ve ever had as a person, a friend, and a Christian. I’d like to share with you what I’ve gained from my break from technology (aside from email and school work, of course, #college).

Lessons Learned from a Life without an iPhone and Social Media:

  • We take so much for granted when we hide behind social media and our phones. We neglect to realize how important every moment is with a loved one, or even a stranger. Being fully present in every moment and conversation this week was one of the best things that I have ever experienced. I had conversations that lasted hours without interruption because of not worrying about who texted me and without having to be somewhere at a certain time. I’ll remember these conversations for the rest of my time in college and beyond.
  • You can complete a LOT of homework when you’re not storming up a funny Snapchat story or nifty Instagram post and caption.
  • It’s not impossible to say “no.” Sometimes that’s the best option for you.
  • Taking care of yourself is incredibly underrated.
  • It’s okay to not be “okay” for a while, but make sure you’re working on making you/your life better.
  • Distraction takes away so much in our lives. After this week, I reflected on what I gained from my experience being away from my phone and social media, and a common theme through it all was how distracted we are behind these things. At this point, I feel like I could write a book on how we daily distract ourselves with these devices. It’s almost effortless to hide behind the distraction of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and texting people. It’s easy to ignore the problems that we’re really facing because we pour ourselves and time into others and what we think of them/what they think of us with phones and social media. It’s easy to be distracted in conversation by that guy or girl who hasn’t texted us back or how many likes that post has or hasn’t gotten. It’s so tempting to be distracted by our phones as we walk or are bored and to neglect to appreciate where we currently are and what we have. It’s even easier to try to capture moments with our cameras for that perfect post or Snapchat story and to forget that we’re even experiencing it now in the first place. Don’t let the distraction of your phone or your social media presence keep you from loving and living your life in all the ways you should and could be. There is potential in people, situations, and events hiding behind your distractions and rushing to get from point A to point B. Don’t let that take over.
  • Sometimes the greatest things in life are not planned. Leave some time free every day to let those great things happen.
  • You don’t have to explain yourself to anyone. What you’re going through is not everyone’s business, and own that. But on the flip side, sharing who you are with people who genuinely care about you (and vice versa) is beautiful. Being vulnerable with people brings you closer and helps you understand each other and yourself even more on a deeper level.
  • Being honest with yourself is the key to happiness. How can you be honest with others if you’re lying to yourself?
  • Time is measured in experiences and moments, not seconds, minutes, or hours.
  • Social media can be a wall that we hide our problems behind to make our lives seem great. If you look at someone’s Facebook, you see all of the great things in that person’s life through pictures, posts, and other things he or she is tagged in. You don’t typically see people posting about their life problems. If you ever feel like you’re struggling with comparing yourself to others, something you should not do is go on social media for comfort. You won’t find it there. But don’t be afraid to be your real self, even if it seems like the world is going right for someone else.
  • The caliber of Virginia Tech students is unreal. The people here are, in my opinion, the best people in the world, who are innovative, compassionate, and always willing to do more and to do better.
  • I don’t have to heal people. But if I want to help anyone at all, I need to take care of myself first.
  • Resting is so, so, so important. Even Jesus did it when He was with people, and even God did it after He created the Earth. You are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t rest at least once a week. And you’re doing God a disservice if you don’t use some of that resting time to grow closer to Him.
  • My relationship with Jesus will get me through the hardest of times and make my best times even better.
  • God is in our life so very frequently, but we fail to see it behind the distractions around us. This week I saw God in SO many ways that I never realized before. I’ll never forget how much I valued recognizing Him in the simple moments in my days.

Wow. That was a lot of lessons learned and thoughts, right? Yes. That’s the point. When you take time to really reflect, to be honest with yourself, and to love the life you have without distractions, you think and learn a lot. That’s exactly what this week did for me.

If you’re having a hard time seeing God in your life, making time for yourself, being honest with you and your life, or you just would like a break from keeping up with your phone/social media, I’d highly suggest turning your phone off for an hour or two a day, or maybe a day, or even a week if you’re up for the challenge like I was. It will be hard, but it will be worth it.

Think about how much time you spend on your phone or on social media a day. Think about how much face-to-face interaction you spend with people a day, or even how much time you spend praying. If the number is greater for how much you spend on your phone/social media than the number of face-to-face or praying, then reconsider how much time you invest in each. Your life is so much more than your social media presence or how fast you respond to text messages or calls, and thanks to this week, I know that for a fact.

Thanks for reading. Now go outside, find a friend, and enjoy today.

Making the Numbers (and Uncountable) Count

2OOL5Serving as an Orientation Leader for Virginia Tech’s First-Year Orientation was an experience defined by numbers: calling ourselves 2OL5, serving VT ’19, reaching 6,107 new students, 13 Orientation sessions, 30 student leaders working, sporting 2 orange & maroon polos, living off of 2 cups of ABP tea/coffee a day, doing 6 hilarious University Life skits, facilitating 3 small group sessions daily, always remembering it’s a “Day 1” experience, getting 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night, having at least 3 plates at D2 a night, cheering our individual Orientation Leader group numbers (for me, it’s 8), and having the daily determination of reaching “93“.

This summer’s experience of working along 32 of the best people I’ve ever known was nothing short of phenomenal. We spent just over a month at each other’s sides through some of the most challenging days I’ve ever faced. Our days started at 6:10 a.m. and didn’t end until around 12 or 12:15 a.m. (with multiple breaks in the day). Every single day we had a new group of students and families to help feel welcome and excited about their new journeys as Hokies. We answered questions and gave personal advice to our students, became a friend, mentor and resource to them for their upcoming year(s), and had an all-around great day with them while trying to make an impact on their lives. Sounds simple, right?

At the end of the day, it was our job to make them feel welcome. That, in itself, is simple. Going through the days was a blast because honestly, what we had to do- spreading Virginia Tech spirit and helping people get excited about their time at VT- is the best job you could ever ask a Hokie to do. Sometimes I’d tear up in my groups about something I talked about because I love it so much here, whether that be the Ohio State game coming up or about how I had an incredibly tough semester last spring but the people here helped me and changed my life and perspective. So the job of an OL is simple and fun. You got that?IMG_2991

But, let’s turn the table a little bit. It was difficult. Being so consistent every day with each group of students, but adapting to their needs and personalities wasn’t the easiest thing to do, but it was definitely something that added so much to the role and experience. Functioning on very little sleep but needing to keep the energy up on Day 1.13 as much as it was on Day 1.1 was very hard. And trying to capture how incredible Virginia Tech is in only a few hours to 15-25 students, as well as making an positive impact on them in the slightest bit, kind of seems/seemed impossible.

But beyond the fun, simple, and difficult, my experience as an OL was phenomenal. Here’s why:

  • The Virginia Tech Class of 2019 is remarkable. Getting to meet over 270 students in my group over 3 weeks and hearing their stories touched my heart. And being a part of their Hokie journey means the world to me. I will always have so much pride for my group, my students, and will always be here for them. My friend and fellow OL, Tara Shockley, said it best at one of our team meetings when she said “I came into this knowing I would impact students. But I didn’t realize how much they would impact me.”
  • The Orientation Team (including our Orientation Assistants, Orientation Leaders, 2 marvelous interns and 1 pretty awesome Assistant Director for New Student and Family Programs) was the best group of people I’ve ever worked with. Every single day we encouraged and supported one another, got each other “hype”, made each other laugh SO hard, talked about strange things that put smiles on all of our faces, and became best friends more and more. I couldn’t admire nor appreciate any of those individuals more. They embrace everything that Virginia Tech aims for its students to be and make our university and world a better place.
  • Virginia Tech speaks for itself. Everything that it stands for is about making a student a better person. Each day I told my students I wanted them to come away with one thing: Virginia Tech is more than an academic institution where you’ll just come to class. This place changes people and encourages them to become better every day. We embrace our school motto, Ut Prosim, which means “That I May Serve.” Sure, there are lots of pretty buildings and places on campus, but our Hokie community is full of beautiful people, and the VT Class of 2019 is sure to understand that in a few weeks.
  • We got to meet hundreds of people every day. And learning that just putting a smile on can impact someone’s day and feelings on our university was life-changing. I’ll never hesitate to wear a smile from here on out.
  • Learning about myself and my faith throughout this journey was incredibly rewarding. Understanding how important it is to trust myself and what my limits are but also how I work and rely on others is something I’ll take with me wherever I go.

Orientation helped me re-fall in love with Virginia Tech. I’ll never forget this summer nor will I forget what I learned and how the people I met/worked with impacted me. The countable things truly made the experience what it was, but what was in between, or the “uncountable”, that really made it phenomenal.

Thank you, Virginia Tech Class of 2019, for allowing me to be a part of your Hokie journeys. Make it everything you want it to be and more. You couldn’t be coming to a better place or joining a stronger, more incredible community.

And thank you, 2OL5, for being 32 of my newest best friends. I love you, and I know VT19 does too. Thanks for being the best Hokies out there.

With maroon & orange love,

Elizabeth “Brown Cows Don’t Make Chocolate Milk” Galbreath, #8

Dare to Learn for Today

Some people talk about the longevity of one’s life to be what really “counts” in the end. I think those people think that every day is the same as the one before. I believe they think that tomorrow will be just like today, maybe with a change in scenery, but it’ll ultimately be no different from today’s events or feelings in the grand scheme of things.

I see it differently. I believe in learning something new every single day. Because of that, no day can be like the one before. Today will never be like tomorrow, and yesterday was not identical to today.

No matter who you are and where you are, you can always learn something. And by taking advantage of the world you’re in and learning something new daily will lead to you seeing it differently. That change in perspective will make you grow as a person mentally and spiritually. It will make you challenge yourself every day and it will allow you to see new things or see “old” things a bit differently.

Too often I see people just carry on with their lives like every day is just another 24 hours for them to continue what he or she is doing. That’s not the case. Each day is a special gift from God, and He wants you to love each day and appreciate it.

I’m not saying you need to go on an adventure every day, but I just think that some people need to be aware of how blessed they are to have today. And if you really understand how much of a gift waking up every single day is, you will be sure to take advantage of that and grow and make yourself and the world better.

All I ask is that you learn something today, and try to do so for every day thereafter. You could learn what kind of grass is growing at your favorite baseball stadium (it’s Kentucky Blue Grass at Camden Yards, by the way), why the sky is blue, or what a certain word means in the book you’ve been reading. “Carpe diem” and “seizing the day” aren’t just about taking risks, it’s about ensuring that today is not like tomorrow, and that you love today for what it is.

And who knows, maybe when you learn that thing for a day, you may discover something or find something out that will change your life.

Dare to learn for today. And dare to learn for each of your tomorrows.

“Through wisdom a house is built; by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are willed with all rare and beautiful treasure.” – Proverbs 24: 3-4

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