Holtville's David Lopez, National FFA Western Regional Vice President, is shown surrounded by family members and friends at the moment his election to the position is announced during the virtual 93rd National FFA Convention. | VIDEO SCREEN CAPTURE
HOLTVILLE — Ever since Holtville resident David Lopez was just a boy, he has enjoyed being kind to others and helping put a smile on their face.
His actions would lead his mother to conclude early on that her only son and the second oldest of her three children was born to be a leader.
Nor have the intervening years proven her wrong. Before his 2019 graduation from Holtville High, Lopez served as president of the campus’ FFA chapter, as well as a state sentinel for California FFA’s 2019-2020 team.
Today, Lopez serves as the National FFA Western Region vice president, after being selected during the organization’s 93rd annual National FFA Convention, held virtually from Oct. 27 to 29.
He is the state’s 28th FFA member to be elected to the organization’s national office, the first Latino officer to be elected from California, and the only Valley student to hold a national officer’s position.
“The small actions are what cause change,” Lopez said. “I believe we are all put on this earth for a reason, and if mine is to help lift others, I couldn’t be more thankful and excited.”
His accomplishments within FFA are all the more remarkable, the 19-year-old said, because unlike many students who join FFA, his family lacked the traditional ties to the agricultural industry.
Instead, Lopez credits an agricultural education class he took as a high school freshman that piqued his initial interest in the industry and, later, motivated him to join FFA.
“From there, it just skyrocketed,” Lopez said.
That meteoric rise now includes the added responsibilities of being one of the national organization’s six officers, which include president, secretary, and vice presidents representing the central, southern, eastern, and western regions of the country.
National officers commit to a year of service, during which time they will travel extensively to meet with business and industry leaders, thousands of FFA members and state FFA leaders, corporate sponsors, government officials, educators, and the general public.
Though Lopez had initially gotten the opportunity to meet and confer with a wide range of individuals and professionals while he served at the county- and state-level FFA, those discussions at times left him feeling intimidated. This time, the prospect of having similar interactions at the national level has him feeling motivated.
“You just got to put on your big boy pants and go out and do the stuff they’ve been training us to do,” Lopez said.
Lopez was elected to the national office by FFA delegates attending the national convention, held virtually this year on account of COVID-19. Part of the selection process included an extensive interview process that was conducted virtually.
The virtual interviews presented a challenge for Lopez, who said he wasn’t able to readily discern the judges’ reactions to his responses. Nonetheless, he said he felt the National FFA organization did a good job of making the candidates feel comfortable and that their accomplishments mattered.
“That was something to be proud of at the end of the day,” Lopez said.
Since having initially joined his sophomore year in high school, Lopez said he has seen an increase in the amount of diversity in the FFA organization.
The FFA organization is a school-based national youth leadership development organization with more than 760,000 student members who make up 8,700 local FFA chapters in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
This year, the organization has more than 115,831 Latino members, more than 40,000 Black members and more than 12,000 members who are American Indian and Alaska Native, a National FFA press release stated in August.
“We just want something that is as diverse and reflective of who (the students) are and where they come from,” Lopez said.
On June 2, National FFA posted an announcement on its Facebook page that acknowledged it had been the subject of criticism over its stance, or perceived lack thereof, on inclusion, diversity, and equity, and particularly in regards to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The burden falls on all of us who want to make people from all races, ethnicities and walks of life feel welcome in our country,” the statement read. “And, to feel welcome in FFA.”
Two days later, National FFA announced the removal of its then-Western Region vice president for making inappropriate social media remarks prior to his assuming the national office that were not in keeping with the organization’s commitment to appreciate and promote diversity.
Making people of diverse backgrounds feel welcome within FFA will be a top priority for Lopez in his new role as Western Region vice president. The position will require him to move to Indianapolis in January and take a year off his studies at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, where he is majoring in agricultural communications.
Lopez, who learned Mandarin and sign language, and has played travel volleyball in Mexico, said he would like to attend law school after completing his undergraduate studies in the hopes of becoming an immigration attorney.
In the meantime, the focus for Lopez and his fellow national officers will be to further promote personal growth, premier leadership, and career success among the organization’s membership. Lopez cites his own trajectory within the organization as an example of the opportunities that it affords students.
“This organization is not just for a certain type of student, but for all of them,” Lopez said. “No matter who you are or where you come from, there’s a spot for you to step up and be a leader.”
Lindsay Cox, Holtville High agricultural studies teacher and Holtville FFA advisor, said the campus’ ag education department has done much to increase student awareness of career opportunities through classroom activities, competitive teams, and hands-on work experience projects.
The department’s program has about 180 students currently enrolled, many of whom do not have ties to the Valley’s agriculture industry. Regardless of whether those students are interested in an ag career or not, they are able to excel through the program’s leadership development opportunities, much as Lopez has, Cox said.
“I feel David is an exceptional leader because he purposefully invested his time and talents into building up others,” she stated in a Monday, Nov. 30, email. “He brings joy to a room and is able to engage and invest in people of all backgrounds. The Holtville community should be very proud.”