The March 14 status on my 20-year-old daughter's Facebook page said it all: "Got a shout-out from a prof for being a very "clear and confident speaker and presenter." Second one this year. All those years of hating 4-H speaking competitions are finally paying off!"
It took me back a decade to when I was confronted with a defiant 10-year-old who saw no value at all in standing in front of a bunch of people and opening her mouth hoping words would come out.
She didn't know what she would talk about. My suggestions met with disdain. "I am NOT doing a speech!" she said.
"Fine!" I replied, tired of trying to explain why she'd be grateful for the experience one day, tired of reminding her I felt exactly the same way about 4-H speeches when I was her age --and just plain tired. "It's your choice, but no speech, no 4-H; no 4-H, no horse."
It was one of those parenting moments when you wish you could take back the words as soon as they left your mouth. They hung there like damp laundry on a hot, humid day, and for a moment it looked like she would call my bluff.
"Fine!" she said. She wrote a speech.
For the life of me, I don't remember what that first speech was about, but neither does she. I do remember that after that first speech, she kept on writing them for six years, complaining, but each time trying a little harder to reach the next level of competition.
Anyone who has experienced 4-H as a member, parent, leader -- or, as is often the case, all three --can identify with this story.
For 100 years now, alumni have been discovering having 4-H on their resum© means something to a prospective employer, not because it is some kind of status symbol like an Ivy-league education, but because it means they are "doers" who don't let fear of failure sway them from tackling something new.
They have been exposed to ethics beyond the "me generation" through the head, heart, hands and health 4-H pledge. Although they may not like speaking in public, they can get the job done. And they know about budgets. More than a few have paid their way through university with the cattle herd that grew from 4-H calves.
These kids think they are learning stuff about cattle, or horses, or sewing, gardening or photography, but really, they are learning about life. The projects they choose are about setting goals. Deadlines are about the discipline to work toward those goals. Achievement isn't about perfection. It is about finishing a task on time and to the best of your ability.
At a time when many youth risk becoming disengaged from the real world, finding it easier instead to connect through the virtual reality of social media, the hands-on, face-to-face value 4-H delivers is more relevant than ever.
Laura Rance is editor of the Manitoba Co-operator. She can be reached at 204-792-4382 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org