12/04/13 — Stewart recognized with FFA's highest honor

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Stewart recognized with FFA's highest honor

By Josh Ellerbrock
Published in News on December 4, 2013 1:46 PM

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Mount Olive College sophomore Brian Stewart works on his grandfather's farm. Stewart, a former Spring Creek High School student, has earned the American Degree from the Future Farmers of America -- the organization's highest honor.

A little determination can go a long way, and MOC student Brian Stewart proves it.

Stewart, a sophomore at Mount Olive College from Goldsboro, recently received the American Degree -- the highest honor given by the Future Farmers of America, after seven years of hard work in the fields and classrooms of Wayne County.

Three other students from Mount Olive College also received the award this year -- Josh Wisniewski of Elizabeth City, Patricia Purvis from Grantham and Luke Hill from Elizabethtown.

"I think the biggest thing that made me want to pursue this -- it's like once you get in the Boy Scouts of America, once you become an Eagle Scout, you're finished," Stewart said. "You've done all you could. There's few people that can be dedicated for that long.

"It just means that I made it. I just want to thank everyone that helped me."

Stewart is also an Eagle scout.

The FFA's American Degree is a rare honor that takes a long time to earn. To be eligible for the award, an FFA member needs to invest $7,500, or 2,250 working hours, into a "supervised agricultural experience" or SAE program. For Stewart, that meant spending time on his grandfather's farm where he mowed the lawn, took care of the farm equipment and made sure the hogs were safe in their enclosures.

Recipients of the degree also need to complete 50 hours of community service through the FFA.

"It's a tremendous amount of effort to get an FFA degree. They have to decide early on that that's something they want," said Chris Stewart, Brian's father.

According to a press release from the 86th National FFA Convention, of the 557,318 student members currently involved in the FFA, only 3,578 received the American Degree.

Besides working for his grandfather on his farm, Stewart also played an important role in working for the Spring Creek High School FFA chapter and later the Mount Olive Collegiate FFA chapter. For six of the seven years with FFA, Stewart has held a position as an officer. During his senior year at Spring Creek, Stewart was president of that chapter.

"FFA is more than the agricultural part. FFA is leadership. If I can help people be better, I can help myself be better," he said.

Stewart originally joined FFA after being exposed to it as a child. Both his father, uncle and grandparents were involved in agriculture and agribusiness.

"It's been in my life. I was never forced to attend any events, but it's something that I fell in love with," Stewart said.

And even after earning the American degree, Stewart wants to continue in a career related to agriculture. Currently he is an agricultural education major at Mount Olive College, and he is thinking of pursing the sales and outreach specialization of the major, he said.

"(The major) looks at working at an extension or the business side of agriculture. I think why this concentration appealed to me -- I wasn't sure what I wanted to do in my life, but I knew that it was something in agriculture," he said.

"I figure that there is a need for young dedicated individuals to be in agriculture."

As for students still trying to earn their FFA American degrees, Stewart said, "Don't give up."

"Winston Churchill said, 'Don't ever, ever give up.' That's really stood clear with me, or Joshua from the Bible, 'be strong and courageous.' They really helped me through when I thought that I couldn't go on anymore. That really brought me back to earth, and I said, 'Yeah, I can finish."