Apr. 10—Isabel D'Acquisto was only 10 years old and new to Jackson County 4-H when Jim Miller tapped the outgoing fourth-grader on the shoulder.
Miller, a teacher at Crater High School and advisor for the school's Future Farmers of America chapter, pointed to his FFA students, who were also on hand that day. "That," he said, "could be you some day."
D'Acquisto, a Crater High senior, can't recall the details of that exchange anymore, but remembers vividly the seed it planted, which eventually grew into a piece of Crater history a few weeks ago when D'Acquisto defied long odds and beat out dozens of other high achievers across the state to be voted Oregon FFA president.
The big moment, streamed live March 17 via Zoom, was captured by Crater FFA advisor and Crater agriculture science and technology teacher Bailey Corcoran, who had her phone trained on D'Acquisto when the final vote tally was announced. After D'Acquisto's name is announced, Corcoran can be heard whooping it up as D'Acquisto covers her mouth with both hands and laughs at the shock of it all.
"Oh, my goodness," D'Acquisto said Thursday, describing her emotions that day. "I think it was almost a feeling of, 'Is that really my name? Like there's no way that can be right.' And then obviously once it kind of settles in that yes, I am looking at my name right now then it's just, oh, my gosh, I can't believe this is it. Completely shaking, wanting to stay composed because you are on Zoom with everybody else, but on the inside absolutely freaking out."
According to Miller, D'Acquisto is the first Crater High FFA member to be elected to the state office in 14 years and the first to be elected president in 20 years.
It's rare because it's very difficult just to come through the nominating process and place among the top six — that's how many are voted state officers — let alone gain enough votes to top the best of the best Oregon FFA has to offer. D'Acquisto is a 4.0 student, a member of the National Honor Society, and has an infectious personality, but every top candidate was similarly impressive.
She showed her mettle during a marathon selection process few 18-year-olds could endure. By the time the three-day conference was over D'Acquisto had sat through 18 interviews — a round-robin interview, behavioral interview, member scenario, stakeholder interview, and on and on. After all that, when the votes were tallied it was D'Acquisto who came out on top.
"You have to think about the quality of (D'Acquisto)," Miller said. "You can put five other kids comparable to her sitting right here and they're all state officers, they're amazing young kids from across the state. The cream doesn't rise to the top for no reason — they're the best. And they're the ones that'll be out sporting the blue and gold jacket and representing over 7,000 FFA members all across the state of Oregon at all kinds of different functions."
That's the next step for D'Acquisto and the other state officers, one of which is Rogue River's own Jonwyn Ayres, the newly elected FFA state secretary. The other officers are vice president Justin Sharp of Fort Rock, treasurer J.W. Dippold of Imbler, reporter Kylie Baldwin of Redmond and sentinel Katie Price of Sutherlin. Together, they'll spend the next year working for and representing Oregon FFA at various events and conferences, including the National FFA Summit in Washington D.C., in July.
It'll be a whirlwind tour that in years past has even taken state officers out of the country — past officers have visited South Africa and Brazil — but for the second year in a row the look of those functions will likely be dictated by COVID-19 protocols.
For the moment, they're scheduled to visit all 11 Oregon FFA districts over the summer to help run leadership camps, then in the fall begin a leadership tour. For that, they'll break up into groups of two and visit every FFA chapter in the state. In a normal year, that would mean staying in a new home every night, but this year D'Acquisto is prepared for anything from frequent motel visits to a continuation of the Zoom life. If the officers go forward with the scheduled tours, the on-the-go lifestyle will require some getting used to.
"It's definitely nothing like any of us have done before," she said. "This week I am in Corvallis, then next week I'm going to be in Canby, then the next week I'm going to be in Baker City."
And it will be like that throughout the rest of 2021 and well into 2022, which is why each of the officers will be putting off college. D'Acquisto's tentative plan is to enroll in Southern Oregon University in 2022 to work toward a bachelor's degree, majoring in education, then move on to Oregon State University to earn a master's in agricultural education. Her long-term goal is to teach agriculture at a high school — Crater High would be her ideal landing spot, she said — and become an FFA advisor.
That seems like a logical path for somebody whose love affair with agriculture began when a neighbor randomly gifted D'Acquisto, then only 8, a rabbit hutch. "Now what?" she wondered.
Her mom, Kerri, suggested filling the hutch with a rabbit. Soon, Blue, a Dutch rabbit, was D'Acquisto's little project, one that would be bred and shown over the years as its faithful owner continued to move up in the local ag world.
D'Acquisto became Jackson County 4-H secretary in seventh grade, keeping the minutes during monthly meetings. She began showing goats in eighth grade, then was elected Crater's FFA chapter president the first year she was allowed to run, as a junior. Blue, meanwhile, is still alive and hopping.
Now, D'Acquisto is bracing for the next big step. The outgoing state officers did have some advice for her. She plans on taking it.
"Just trust the process," D'Acquisto said, recalling the guidance she's received. "Everything happens for a reason, you'll learn as you go.
"You don't have to learn everything at once, it comes in tears. So just embrace each moment of it."
Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or firstname.lastname@example.org.