WORTHINGTON — A 2022 Worthington High School graduate will receive the highest honor in the FFA organization during the National FFA Convention in early November in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Luke Gordon, now a junior at South Dakota State University, recently learned he will be among the 2023 recipients of the American FFA Degree. He will be the 28th individual in the history of the Worthington FFA Chapter to receive the award. He is also the first in his family to earn the American degree, which comes with a gold FFA emblem and certificate.
“I was pretty excited,” Gordon said of learning in mid-August that he would receive the honor. WHS FFA Advisors Matt Tripp and Katie Christopher shared the news with him. “It meant a lot to me that I was chosen; being the first one in my family was a pretty cool accomplishment for me.”
While Gordon isn’t sure if he will be able to accept the American FFA degree in person in Indianapolis, he can be assured his name will join the high school’s coveted list of recipients on a display in the ag room. It’s a display he’d admired as a student and, much like others who go through the program, was challenged by.
“When I first started FFA, I was really passionate — really excited — to get involved,” Gordon shared. “We have a big chapter and a lot of my friends were involved (in the organization).
Finding family members’ names on the state degree wall was really good motivation to want to do that as well.
“There’s a state degree wall and American degree wall,” he added. “Finding family members’ names on the state degree wall was really good motivation to want to do that as well.”
For FFA members to get their name on either wall takes a lot of work. Each must be actively involved in the organization by attending chapter meetings, volunteering in community projects, selecting a Supervised Agricultural Experience, participating in Career Development Events and maintaining records of both chapter involvement and hours worked and dollars earned through their SAE.
Gordon served as the WHS FFA Chapter’s officer-at-large as a sophomore, followed by the COVID-19 year, in which there was an officer slate but no individual officer titles given, and then secretary of the chapter during his senior year. He was also the Region 6 FFA Treasurer as a junior.
“That was a really good experience, despite the fact that COVID ruined that,” he said.
Aside from his officer roles, Gordon was on the chapter’s Farm Business Management CDE team, which made it to state competition all four years he was on the team. He also took part in the Dairy Products CDE team.
Gordon explained that to earn the American FFA degree, a member must have previously earned the Greenhand, Chapter and State FFA degrees. Those awards are typically distributed as a sophomore, junior and senior in high school, respectively. They must also continue to maintain records of all FFA events they participate in at the region and national level.
In addition, the member must have earned $10,000 or more — or invested $7,500 or more — through their SAE, and invest a certain amount of hours in it.
Other requirements for achieving the American FFA degree include having outstanding leadership abilities, a good scholastic record, and doing a minimum of 50 hours of community service that are unrelated to school.
“I get to go on a lot of mission trips through my church, volunteered at the food shelf (while on) the football team, made foster care bags through the FFA,” Gordon shared. “I ended up with a lot of community service hours just by volunteering during high school.”
In addition to that, he had several different SAEs, including working on the family farm; getting a job with Ling Drainage, where he learned field drainage and tiling systems; working in concrete construction for LT1 doing sidewalks and parking lots, among other jobs, and then working alongside a veterinarian in a swine barn, where he learned more about the swine industry, including how to give medication and deliver piglets.
“My last SAE was working as a sales intern with C&B Operations in Worthington and Jackson,” Gordon said. “I learned the sales process, how equipment gets valued when it’s traded in, and why they price it the way they do.
“It was a really good experience to be in the ag industry and learning the process,” he added. “I really like agriculture.”
It was Gordon’s experience at C&B Operations that led him to his chosen major at SDSU — ag systems technology with minors in precision agriculture and ag business. He hopes to one day work in the precision ag field with John Deere, and help develop future technology and test it out.
Precision ag is all about being more efficient in agriculture.
“Precision ag is all about being more efficient in agriculture,” he explained. “We’re fortunate enough to have good equipment. A big thing is the yield monitor — it tells you moisture content and yield on the go when you’re in the combine. It tells you what the crop is yielding at different points in the field.
“During planting, it tells you what variety you’re planting, along with information from the tractor and planter,” he added. “I like to work on the online platform where all that data comes into and analyze the data — what variety did the best and where in the field. It gives you a lot of information.”
On the farm outside of Worthington, Gordon said they use the John Deere software, but other manufacturers have similar programs.
Gordon, who earned his Associate of Arts degree from Minnesota West Community & Technical College in Worthington just weeks before earning his high school diploma, anticipates graduating from SDSU in May 2025.
He has three younger siblings, two of whom are currently in the Worthington FFA Chapter — Lance is a senior and Anna is a freshman. Brother Liam will likely follow in his older siblings’ footsteps and be in the FFA as well.
Gordon said reaching the level of the American FFA degree took a lot of work — paperwork, to be specific, but his FFA advisors at WHS kept working with him to help him reach his goal.
“The advisors do a good job of keeping up on us in case we want to do this someday,” he shared.
Gordon has several friends at SDSU who will also be receiving their American FFA degree this November — students who attended high school in either South Dakota or Minnesota.
American FFA degree recipients must be one year past high school, and be age 21 or younger to receive the award.