The first time Gracie Kempken ever walked into an FFA convention, she was just twelve years old, navigating her seventh-grade year. She was a dancer, but the FFA State Convention was not a place where flowy, bedazzled outfits necessarily fit in. Instead, she sat in an icy coliseum and watched thousands of students dressed in blue and gold corduroy jackets discuss their love of taking care of farm animals. It was far from what she had known, but at that moment, Kempken knew it was where she belonged. That night, she made the decision to quit dance and become an active member of FFA.
“I knew this organization was something special and I wanted to be a part of it,” Kempken said.
Her first hands-on experience came when Kempken’s older brothers, Ty and Dakota, asked for her help with their cows and hogs.
“To say I jumped at that opportunity would be an understatement; I more so dove in head first,” Kempken said. “From then on, I realized showing cattle was my passion.”
Kempken took that passion and ran with it. She completely immersed herself into raising her animals and found a deeper love for them than she ever thought possible.
“My cattle are truly my fur babies,” she said. “I love them unconditionally and would not trade them for the world. They love me too, and I believe there is a sense of respect between us. They are my best friends, my shoulder to cry on, my peace and my secret keepers.”
But with love, comes sacrifice.
“Raising an animal is like raising a child,” Kempken stated. “They require careful attention and care, hours of work and trust. There are no breaks for holidays or because you don’t feel like it. On Christmas morning, the cows are fed and taken care of before any presents are opened.”
Through it all, Kempken said her cows have given her invaluable gifts.
“They have taught me so much and they have given me life lessons that most wouldn’t learn until they are adults,” Kempken said. “I have learned the value of saving and budgeting. One decision could be the difference between them getting the feed they need or getting a new set of nails for myself.”
Her love for her animals and her others-before-self attitude have allowed Kempken to reach new heights in her FFA journey. In May, Kempken was officially named one of ten FFA members across the state to be a Texas FFA Ford Leadership Scholar, a highly prestigious program that supports leadership and service and comes with a scholarship.
“I was really excited for her when she was chosen to be a Texas FFA Ford Leadership Scholar,” Trevor Reifel, FFA sponsor, said. “When she was a freshman she came to me and showed me a list of things she wanted to do during her time in Friendswood FFA. One of the things that was on the list was to become a Ford Leadership Scholar. We talked about how exclusive that program was and the selection criteria were really stringent. That just made her want it more and made her work harder to achieve her goal.”
When she heard she was selected, Kempken said she actually had to pinch herself because she was so surprised.
“I will never truly know what they saw in a girl from Friendswood, Texas who was the first [FHS FFA student] to even think of applying for this program,” Kempken said. “I hope it was my professionalism, my love for the organization, my desire to help in any way, my persistence, and my want to lead.”
Reifel said Kempken has possessed leadership skills long before being awarded the scholarship.
“Gracie makes a good leader because she leads by example and will not ask anyone to do something that she would not be willing to do herself,” Reifel said. “She has drive and determination. More than that, she has a great work ethic and is a hard worker.”
Her leadership is a conscious effort, Kempken said.
“I try to be a leader in any way possible for anyone who needs it,” she stated. “Leadership is about helping others grow and watching them prosper in their goals and their dreams. To me, being a leader is walking alongside someone and growing along with them.”
From just a twelve-year-old spectator to a high school senior FFA State Convention ambassador, Kempken has made the most of her time in the organization, not just through the way she has cared for her animals, but also for the way she has cared for people.
“I try to exhibit FFA values in my daily life, in and out of the organization,” Kempken said. “I try to be a positive influence and light by doing something so simple like passing on a genuine compliment or going the extra mile to help someone. Being kind and courteous is something we should do more often.”
As Kempken finishes her last year in FISD, she looks to the future. She plans to study agricultural communication in the Fall of 2020 at Texas A&M University in order to continue to make a difference in the world of agriculture but said there is still work to be done here.
“At the end of the day,” Kempken said. “My highest goal is to be genuinely content with all that I have done when I take off that National Blue and Corn Gold Corduroy jacket for the last time.”
As she prepares for that moment, Kempken leaves with some advice for those who will follow after her.
“If I could give one tidbit of advice it would be to simply do it,” she said. “If you are hesitant about applying for that position, talking to that person, entering that contest, or setting that high goal; take a leap of faith and do it. Never be afraid to set high goals and reach for them. Don’t let others define what your capabilities are. Be authentic to who you are and never apologize for being you; it’s the best thing you could ever be.”