Chris Collins
The Baker City Herald

Nearly a week after Baker High School senior Kourtney Lehman was elected state FFA president, she still can’t believe it’s true.

“It still catches me off guard to say I’m a state officer,” she said. “It’s very surreal.”

The 18-year-old says she’s been eyeing a position on the state FFA officer team since she was a greenhorn freshman.

“I still remember my freshman year when I met the state officers,” she said. “They are superstars to you. It’s a really weird feeling to have now sat on both ends of the spectrum.”

While the road to achieving her goal has been marked by hard work and dedication, Kourtney shies away from taking the credit for her accomplishments.

Instead, she looks to the support she’s received from her family and the members of the Baker FFA chapter, which she’s served as president for the past two years.

“My chapter is my family,” Kourtney says, recalling the support and encouragement she received from the members, her advisers and school administrators along her four-year journey.

“I definitely would not be where I am today without my chapter behind me,” she said.

Kourtney says she could always rely on having the largest group of rooters in the audience when her name was announced.

Chapter members also provided gift baskets filled with treats and well-wishes while she was seeking state office and competing in contests at the state convention.

Students competed in a wide range of contests March 24-27 at the Deschutes Fair & Expo Center in Redmond.

Election as a state officer is “difficult and very emotional,” Kourtney says.

“You’re running against people you’ve come to know all four years,” she said. “It’s not easy for students my age to have their dreams on the line.”

The process began the first night of the state convention, on Friday, March 24, with about 30 candidates vying for the six positions on the state officer team. By Saturday night, the number had been trimmed to 14.

Lehman wasn’t running for a particular position — instead, the nominating committee selects candidates for each position.

For her, the suspense was over early, when she saw her name projected on the screen as president. The position was the first of six state offices to be announced on the last day of the convention, Monday, March 27.

The officers are elected by two delegates each from the 105 Oregon FFA chapters.

Kourtney’s election to the top post was seen as good luck by the young women attending the convention.

“Everyone kept saying ‘you broke the streak, you broke the streak,’ ” she said. “I was the first girl president in about 10 years.”

Lehman said once her name was announced she was rushed off stage into a room where she waited to see who would be joining her and in what positions.

Emma Rooker of Bend was the next to be ushered into the room as vice president. She was followed by Jensen Kemble of Ontario as state secretary; Wade Rynearson of Union, state treasurer; Lee Wesenberg, of Sutherlin, state reporter; and Gaby Santa Cruz of Hood River, state sentinel.

Kourtney said she wasn’t even thinking about the presidency in the final moments before her name was announced and shown on a large screen for all to see.

“My main thought was I hope to be on the team,” she said.

The president and vice president receive the special perk of traveling to Washington, D.C., in July to meet with congressional representatives and to further hone their leadership skills.

A second trip, this one overseas, also is in the works for the entire team and will take the state officers to either Thailand, Greece, a destination in Europe or a destination in South America.

“I’m very excited about that part,” Kourtney said. “We’ll be looking at ag wherever we go.”

The group will be planning fundraisers to help pay for the trip.

Last year, Kourtney placed first in three events at the state convention, and she had to choose just one to compete in at the National FFA Convention in October in Indianapolis.

She chose the Prepared Speech competition and placed in the top 16 in the nation to finish as a silver emblem finalist.

This year she was a return champion in the Job Interview competition and placed third in the Extemporaneous Speaking contest.

Despite qualifying for national competition as a first-place winner at state, Kourtney said she will not compete this year because of her responsibilities as a state officer at the national convention.

See more in the April 10, 2017, issue of the Baker City Herald.