"It was a worthwhile experience," summarized Iowa FFA Degree recipient Kevin Sweet.
Recently, Sweet was awarded Iowa's highest Future Farmers of America state honor during FFA Week in February. The Iowa Degree is the culmination of years of work and dedication to the principles of the FFA program.
Sweet, who is a senior at Northeast Hamilton High School, is a four-year member of FFA. Throughout those four years, his mentors were his parents Denny and Dori Sweet and his FFA advisor Herb Strausser.
"I had encouragement from my mom and dad and from my Northeast Hamilton advisor Herb Strausser who guided me on my tractor project," said Sweet. "Together with my dad, Mr. Strausser encouraged me to keep learning."
Sweet, 18, credits his father's stewardship for nurturing the young man's love of learning and seeking new discoveries.
"I think I learned something from him everyday," said Sweet.
Sweet's father, a diesel mechanic at the Hamilton County Maintenance Shop, involved his son in projects from an early age. Sweet recalls being on the pit crew at the go-cart races in Kamrar when he was only four years of age.
"I got to fill the tires," he said.
Throughout the years, Denny Sweet shared his mechanical expertise with his son.
"I think he can fix just about anything," said Kevin of his father's skills.
The Future Farmers of America was formed in 1928 by a group of young men interested in preparing future generations for the challenge of feeding a growing population.
"Farming is more than planting and harvesting - it's a science, it's a business and it's an art," reads the FFA Mission Statement.
The State Degree is the highest honor a state can bestow upon an FFA member. Less than 10 percent of all FFA members nationwide achieve all the goal requirements to receive the honor.
Degree requirements include receiving the FFA Chapter Degree, being an active FFA member for at least 24 months and completing 360 hours of systematic school instruction in agricultural education above the ninth grade level.
Also required is earning and productively investing at least $1,000 or having worked at least 300 hours outside of scheduled class time through a Supervised Agricultural Experience.
The FFA Degree recipient must also have demonstrated leadership ability by following parliamentary law procedures, having delivered a 6-minute address on agriculture on FFA and having served as an FFA officer, committee member or chairperson.
To achieve those requirements, Sweet worked as a general farm laborer for Gordon Farms over the past four years. He served the Northeast Hamilton High School FFA chapter in 2011-2012 as a sentinel and he attended the state convention all four of his high school years.
Sweet also has volunteered at the Webster City Community Theatre for the past eight years.
For his future goals, Sweet hopes to enroll in Iowa Central Community College's two-year diesel technology program. He has also put in an application to serve an internship at Titan Machinery in Williams when it begins operation this summer.
While the FFA Degree was presented as a framed certificate, it represents much more to Sweet.
"It says I grew up working," he said. "It says I am responsible."
The experience has been a life lesson for the young man, who has achieved much in just a few years.
"Doing all this has taught me so much and it is who I am today," he summed up the experience. "It has taught me to always keep looking forward."