A smoky haze hangs over the auditorium of the Dallas Convention Center. The main arena is packed with high school kids. They’re making noise, quite a lot of noise, but there’s no trouble. Light and sound crash together in a cacophony of recorded country music with some hip-hop thrown in. A blue corduroy conga line snakes past me down the aisle. The strains of YMCA, complete with hand signals, pulsate from thousands of young throats.

They’re laughing, swaying and singing, anticipating the start of something special. The joy is unmistakable. Real. Powerful. A rock concert? No. It’s the Texas FFA State Convention. As a 60-something-year-old guy, seated near the front and taking it all in, I was struck by the differences between now, a white hot enthusiasm for the challenge of life, and “back then.” That’s when I ran smack into a love of agriculture that I could not resist. Back then was 47 years ago.

As a ninth grade FFA member from Newton, I sat in similar seats during a Texas July. A lot has changed. But a lot hasn’t. Very few of these kids will actually live and work on a farm, though some will. Others will gravitate to teaching, research and the support system of modern agriculture. It is a career path rich with opportunity, but so dependent on attitude and preparation. It seems to me that all of that is in good hands.

FFA is all business, supporting education and self-improvement. But it also can inspire, filling these young folks with a sense of belonging. There’s an understanding that something very good lies ahead. Right now is better than back then. Possibilities seem so real, with hope for a future that will somehow be better just because they were here.

There amid the noise and enthusiasm, I find myself swept up in it. I savor the realization that nearly half a century ago, with less noise but an equal passion for the challenge, my career in agriculture began. I hope the same is true for them.