Madison George, left, and Tristan Palyo received their American FFA Degrees at the National Convention & Expo in Louisville, Ky., two weeks ago. The two are 2012 Soroco High School graduates and spent hours of time and labor to achieve the honor.

Courtesy photo

Madison George, left, and Tristan Palyo received their American FFA Degrees at the National Convention & Expo in Louisville, Ky., two weeks ago. The two are 2012 Soroco High School graduates and spent hours of time and labor to achieve the honor.

Soroco High School grads receive FFA's highest degree

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— It was a sight to behold for the nine National FFA Organization Soroco chapter members with nearly 60,000 of those custom navy blue FFA jackets with gold lettering crammed into the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville.

But of those 60,000 FFA members who attended the four-day National Convention & Expo a few weeks back, a select few were able to boast the honors for which two 2012 Soroco High School graduates were there to be awarded.

Tristan Palyo and Madison George were there to accept their American FFA Degrees, an accomplishment less than one-half percent of all FFA members can brag about.

“The American Degree is a pretty big deal,” Palyo said. “I’ve been in FFA most of middle school and all of high school, and to get the American Degree, you have to get through three other degrees. You do build up pretty far to get this.”

The American Degree doesn’t come without sacrificing a heavy dose of their personal time. Of the lengthy application process, which Soroco High School teacher and FFA leader Jay Whaley guides applicants through, requirements include 540 hours of high school agriculture classes or two years' worth of high school classes combined with 360 hours of college classes.

On top of the time commitment, Palyo and George had to earn and productively invest at least $7,500. The other option is earn or invest $1,500 combined with 2,250 hours of Supervised Agricultural Experiences.

For Palyo, Supervised Agricultural Experiences included hours of labor at Flat Tops Ranch Supply in Phippsburg. George had to look no further than her own backyard at her family’s ranch in Yampa, where she owns and manages cattle, sheep and horses, which Whaley helped keep track of as active “inventory.”

The American Degree is not new to Soroco’s FFA chapter. It’s also no easy catch, Whaley said.

“We’ve gotten American Degrees for the last five or six years, and this year, we had two, which is awesome,” Whaley said. “It’s extremely prestigious. It isn’t just in the classroom, a lot happens outside the classroom.”

George isn’t the first in her family with the American Degree. Her father, Bobby, was the first Soroco High School graduate to receive the honor.

The American Degree is the pinnacle of FFA degrees, but George said it’s not necessarily the hardest to achieve. Throughout their high school FFA careers, members go through the Green Hand Degree, their chapter degree and then the state-level degree. FFA members can’t even apply for the American Degree until they are one year removed from high school.

The pages of paperwork and hours of physical work can be a huge hill to climb for the state degree, George said. Once that’s over with, applying for the American Degree is a much smoother path.

High school FFA is a thing of the past, however, for Palyo and George. Palyo is in his sophomore year at the University of Wyoming studying microbiology. George still is working at her family’s ranch in Yampa, but said she’s young and unsure of a career path in agriculture.

For the other seven Soroco chapter members who attended the national convention, and those who couldn’t make the trip, Whaley hopes the American Degrees will keep pouring in. As for the trip to Louisville, he also hopes that will be something his current members will take with them everywhere they go.

“Anytime you take kids on a leadership thing, there’s always things to be learned,” Whaley said. “I took kids who had never flown before. It’s not all about leadership, it’s about life.”

To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll

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