Miller shows tenacity, heart

Former FFA state officer Jay Adams preps Josie Miller for her final inteview in the state officer selection process as her mother, Sheila Miller, looks on Sunday at Pendleton High School.

Josie Miller didn't let a little thing like a laptop going up in flames stop her from reaching one of the highest rungs on the FFA ladder - the State FFA degree.

But, let's back up just a bit.

Miller, in Pendleton for the state FFA convention, sat waiting for her order of fried ice cream at 3 Cazadores and talked about the road that led to convention. Around the table sat about a dozen of her fellow members of the Heppner High School FFA chapter.

Last year, Heppner restarted its FFA chapter after a 10-year hiatus. Miller, who'd had a taste of FFA at Culver as a freshman, joined and immediately set her sights high, deciding to run for state office.

Any member can throw a hat in the ring, but there's a catch.

"I wanted to run for state office," Miller said. "In order to do that, you have to earn a state degree."

Getting the degree isn't any small commitment. The list of requirements is enough to make one weary just reading them - 24 months of active FFA membership, two years of agricultural course work, leadership of 30 FFA activities and 10 community activities, passing a state degree test, participation in at least five chapter activities above the chapter level and something called a Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE), a project involving earning and investment of at least $1,000 and at least 300 unpaid hours outside class.

Miller had three SAE projects. She raised a flock of sheep, worked as a part-time bank teller at the Bank of Eastern Oregon and restored a beat-up 1978 Ford ranch pickup.

"It was pretty trashed," she said of the pickup she got for her 15th birthday. "It ran, but it was multi-colored and beat-up."

"Old Blue" now gleams under the hood, has a new paint job, tires and interior.

Miller kept meticulous notes about each project on her laptop over the months and knocked off the requirements one by one.

One might think school and FFA would fill Miller's days, but she managed to squeeze in more. She is a volunteer firefighter with the Lexington Fire Department, a SMART reader, a member of both the tennis and speech and debate teams, was the Morrow County Fair and Rodeo queen last summer and served as president of her chapter.

Despite her rigorous schedule, Miller had everything under control - until disaster struck.

"She's had some bumps in the road," said her adviser, Beth Dickenson. "Her laptop caught on fire about two weeks before her state degree was due."

The fire, caused by a wiring problem in her computer, destroyed all her records. Miller thought at first she had averted catastrophe by saving her data to a zip drive, but found it had been overloaded.

Miller pondered the setback, and decided to plunge ahead and reconstruct the records from hard copies.

"Some people told me it was an omen - I shouldn't do it," Miller said. "I just thought of it as a challenge."

Dickenson has watched Miller with awe.

"She's very energetic, very motivating to her peers," Dickinson said. "She's an incredible leader."

At this writing, the names of the new officers still are a secret and will be announced this evening. As of Sunday afternoon, Miller knew she was in top 10, having survived the first two cuts from the original 23 candidates.

Whatever the outcome, Miller knows her future is in agriculture.

"The ag industry is so large and there are so many opportunities," she said.

Miller eventually wants to teach agriculture and will attend Montana State University next fall - unless she is elected a state officer.

If that's the case, she will postpone college one year to assume her duties.

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