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Two Watauga Women Receive FFA’s Highest Award at National FFA Convention

Watauga High’s Agriculture Instructor and FFA Advisor Olivia Haigler, center, is pictured with Elizabeth Ward, left, and Lisandra Mejia, at right, who recently received their American Degree at the 2021 National FFA Convention in Indianapolis. Photo submitted. 

By Sherrie Norris

Two young women from Watauga County were among the best of the best at the 2021 National FFA Convention & Expo recently held in Indianapolis, Indiana. 

With more than 60,000 people in attendance during the annual gathering, Lisandra Mejia and Elizabeth Ward and were presented their American Degree, the highest honor available to (graduated) FFA students.

According to Olivia Haigler, Agriculture Instructor and FFA Advisor at  Watauga High School, to qualify for the coveted award, both Mejia and Ward had to have demonstrated the highest level of commitment to FFA and made significant accomplishments in their supervised agricultural experience.

“Both Lisandra and Elizabeth set goals as freshmen in high school to reach this milestone and they have worked tirelessly to achieve their goal,” said Haigler. “They both have played a critical role in revitalizing our chapter and putting Watauga FFA on the map. I couldn’t be more proud of them in their FFA careers and the legacy they have left on our chapter.”

Haigler added, “Receiving your American FFA Degree is always a bittersweet moment, as it’s exciting to reach this goal, but it also does officially mark the end of your FFA career. I hope that when they look back on their time in this organization, these two will know the impact they have had, both personally and professionally, because of their involvement.”

A resident of the Zionville community, Lisandra is the daughter of Lee and Kim Mejia. She is a junior at NC State University, majoring in agricultural education, and is also part of the school’s teaching fellows program.

“During Lisandra’s FFA career, she served as an officer her sophomore, junior and senior year, and as our chapter president, as well as our northwest region reporter,” Haigler said. “She competed in numerous competitions with FFA and was on our state winning parliamentary procedure team in 2018. Lisandra won first place in the state in 2018 in the agricultural communication proficiency award area for her work on an agricultural awareness blog, which ultimately helped her earn her American Degree.”

For Mejia, receiving her American Degree means the ending of a long and impactful journey. “But it also shows me that the early mornings, late nights and difficult hours I invested all resulted in something worthwhile. FFA has changed my life forever and has shown me my potential, and with the American Degree I have the key to unlock it.”

Elizabeth Ward is from the Vilas community, the daughter of Kevin and Jamie Ward. She is a recent graduate of Central Carolina Community College where she earned her associates degree as a veterinary technician and has returned to Boone to work as a registered veterinary technician. While employed full time, she is continuing her education, working toward her bachelor’s degree, with an ultimate goal of  acceptance into the school of veterinary medicine. 

“During Elizabeth’s time in FFA, she served as chapter reporter her senior and competed in several competitions, including our fourth- place state winning team for agricultural sales in 2019,” said Haigler. “Elizabeth won first place in the state in 2018 in the specialty animal production proficiency, for her work with her miniature donkeys, which ultimately helped her earn her American Degree.”

“This degree means the world to me,” said Ward. “It is something I’ve worked towards for six years, ever since I heard about in freshman year of high school. It truly is an honor to be recognized and to achieve this accomplishment —and  it’s also cool to make some history along the way!”

Since the start of Watauga’s FFA chapter in 1965, after the consolidation of the three high schools in the county, Haigler said, only three members had received their American FFA Degree. 

“Since I started as the agriculture teacher and FFA advisor, we have  had three additional students earn this prestigious honor — Max Hagaman in 2019, and now Lisandra and Elizabeth— who are our first female recipients!” 

The National FFA Organization is a school-based national youth leadership development organization of more than 735,000 student members as part of 8,817 local FFA chapters in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. The FFA mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth, and career success through agricultural education.

 For more information, visit the National FFA Organization online at ffa.org and on Facebook and Twitter.