Leading the Way

Growing up in the northeast Oklahoma, Tanner Taylor aspired to a life with livestock. His parents fostered his passion for agriculture, and the diverse ranch of quarter horses, cattle, hogs, and lambs gave him ample opportunity to learn.

Soon he joined his local FFA chapter, setting him on a path that eventually would lead him to the highest FFA Office in the state – Oklahoma FFA President. Now, with COVID-19, Tanner and his newly elected officer team find themselves in the unprecedented position of guiding the states 26,466 FFA members through the next year.

Born in 2000, Tanner grew up in the Grand Lake community in northeastern Oklahoma. He started school at Ketchum, where his mother Joy is the Superintendent, but made the switch to Adair Schools prior to his eighth grade year. “The problem was that they did not have an FFA Chapter at the time, which was very important to me. I made the transition to Adair to be a part of their ag-ed program. They are one of the top rated FFA programs in our part of the state, and that was really where I wanted to go,” he shared.

Coming from a livestock-oriented background, Adair was a perfect fit. Agriculture education teachers Devin DeLozier and Shane Johnson are both enthusiastic about the competition side of FFA, and Tanner fit right in. “Both Mr. DeLozier and Mr. Johnson have been there many years and are exceptional guys. Adair’s livestock program is huge, and that’s what I wanted,” Tanner said. “But what is interesting is that, this year will be the third year in a row that Adair has had a State Officer, and the program has migrated to encompassing more of the leadership aspects in recent years. It’s been rewarding to see how we’ve kept our traditions, but grown as well.”

Tanner admits that he once held a narrow view of what FFA was. “In all honesty, I had two things on my mind when I started FFA, and that was exhibiting cattle and judging livestock. That’s what my parents both did when they were members – exhibit livestock,” he shared.

As he became more involved, he recognized that FFA was more than just livestock exhibition and evaluation. He explained, “I soon realized that my FFA advisors had a lot more in store for me than I knew. They pushed me to do many different things from horse evaluation, public speaking, being a chapter officer, and going to leadership conferences. It really started out with me wanting to just exhibit and judge livestock, and now here I am.”

It was during that first year as an FFA member, while attending State Convention, that the idea to be a State Officer was planted. “I had an awesome eighth grade year and was fortunate enough to find some success in prepared public speaking and won several contests. When I got to State Convention, the State FFA President at the time, Garrett Reed, was giving his retiring address. He was from the very same county I was, and I thought, ‘This guy right here, who is so exceptional and led our association so well, is from my county. If he can do it, why can’t I?’ So I made a plan to pursue state office,” Tanner recalled.

First though, Tanner had to serve as an officer at his school. Adair is a competitive chapter, and FFA members are only able to serve as officers during their junior and senior year. Tanner served as Sentinel his junior year, and led his chapter as President his senior year. “When I first ran for a State Office, my goal never was to become President, it was just to get elected and serve as the Northeast Area Vice President. I was very excited to give it my all in that position. When I got to the end of that term, I believed my work wasn’t finished, so I ran for State President,” he said.

Running for Office with COVID-19

The election season began as it had in previous years. Aspiring officers filed all necessary forms, went through formal interviews, took tests, and then advanced through the first round during the nominating committee session in Oklahoma City. “Everything went as normal as it usually does, and the officers vying for each position were able to start campaigning,” Tanner said.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 struck quickly. Schools and extracurriculars were shut down, and gatherings were prohibited. “With school out everything was canceled. Our speech contests, leadership conferences, and livestock shows were all canceled. That first month after nominating committee was really, really crucial to those state officer candidates, if they utilized and made the most of that first month, they were set up really well,” he said.

The process delved even more into the unknown when Oklahoma State FFA Convention was canceled. “That left us with online elections. We worked through that with the State FFA staff, and the State Officer team gave input when needed.” He added, “We didn’t know if the online platform would be reliable. We didn’t know if there would be glitches, but there was a lot of prayer and diligent work that went into it, and it worked out for the best.”

Perhaps the biggest change was how officers learned of their win. Instead of reveling in the win on the Convention stage, most, like Tanner himself, waited for the announcement with friends and family at home. “It was a fun-filled night for me. I had my closest friends and family here at the house. We gathered and watched Convention and laughed and visited. In my mind I was pretty negative about the whole thing but watching convention with my family sitting beside was one of my biggest blessings. Most parents rarely get to see what their children are doing in FFA, so it was awesome to be there and honor my family and my FFA chapter and advisors,” he said.

“My family was more on edge than I was. When my face came up on the screen as the State President, everyone went crazy, but all I did was take a big sigh of relief because it was such a long process,” he said. “My biggest regret for the new State Officers is that they did not get to experience their election in person at Convention, because that is one of the most memorable experiences an officer has. When you get to run on stage, that is the moment all of your hard work comes to fruition. Still, they got elected, and I’m beyond excited for them.”

Read more in the July issue of Oklahoma Farm & Ranch.