This week’s Friday on the Farm is taking a detour to the RULE XVIII Commencement. I had the privilege to speak to our class and those in attendance. My speech and challenge to the class is below.

Class, it is an honor to have the privilege to address you and those in attendance today so thank you for the opportunity.

Our journey began on September 25th 2019. That was the first day of interviews to assemble the scholars for RULE 18. I requested the earliest time slot of the first day to avoid having to drive to state college during the peak of our harvest season. That was 807 days ago.

Well RULE XVIII, we finally made it. We didn’t get to have all 10 study institutes. In fact, many scholars were only able to attend half that number in person. But we struggled through together. We had countless Zoom meetings where we got to see each other in 1” by 1” squares. Some of us got to see each other in person through the veil of a mask. It’s been a strange journey, but it’s been an honor to get to spend it with you all.

When Tara first handed us the structured schedule of our 10 study institutes, I was a tad overwhelmed because it looks like quite the daunting time commitment. Now looking back, I would take the certainty of that schedule back anytime over the sporadic nature of how our institutes actually happened.

Our class gelled pretty quickly at state college. There was a palpable excitement to see where RULE was going to take us. Our second institute at Bedford that continued with our “Who Am I” speeches where we spent time hearing classmates pull back the curtain on their life and tell us about their experiences. Seeing how the past has impacted each scholar really affected all of us as we spent a significant portion of that day in tears.

In Leola the cultural divide between rural and urban was on full display along with the bridge to bring the groups together. One of the staples of RULE in Leola is taking the class to Sam and Susie Riehl’s Amish farm on Saturday. On Friday night the class was all together in a lounge in the basement of the hotel and the topic was brought up about what is true and what is not about Amish culture. Some of members in the class have Amish or strict Mennonite family roots so they took the time to answer questions and correct common narratives about the Amish culture. Looking back, it was that opportunity to talk amongst ourselves about the differences of what is true in a culture and what is not which brought the best of RULE out in us.

You may be wondering why I’m spending so much time on this particular memory. In my opinion, this was the last time for our class that RULE worked as designed. There was a clear cultural conflict that was able to be talked through by people who were unfamiliar on a subject yet were able to get answers from people who intimately knew about the subject. The reason this worked Friday night at Leola was everyone gave each other the benefit of the doubt of having good intentions and was able to look past harmful comments to help each person grow. Unfortunately processes like this take continuity and an all-in approach from all participants and those were both broken by the time we met again.

After Leola in February of 2020 the pandemic took our study institute schedule and shredded it. We next met at Lake Rayestown in November of 20 and unfortunately only half of us were able to be in person. Some scholar’s employers weren’t allowing them to travel due to the pandemic while others were online due to being uncomfortable in large gatherings or were directed by their doctor to stay away from group settings. Its good to see that here during graduation we have almost everyone in person.

I’d like our class to take a moment and reflect back with just how much has changed over our time together. We’ve had members of our class get promotions, change jobs, or retire. Businesses have been started, shut down and relocated. Classmates have gotten engaged and married while others got divorced. There have been pregnancies and children born. Of course, we cannot forget our boy Duke who was with us for our first 3 institutes and now is off being a service dog making someone’s life better. All of these major life events happened since our first time meeting each other. Every single person here has changed and grown in one way or another since we met here in Happy Valley 2 years ago.

With all of the change and growth previously mentioned a question for the class looms large: Are you ready to lead in a chaotic world?

Ponder it for a few seconds. The world and modern society are not a naturally kind environment. It is especially coarse towards leaders who are forced with making decisions in the public domain that can be, and will be, heavily criticized by those who only have a fraction of the information. Do we need a better example of this than the year of 2020?

So, what does it take to lead through the chaos of a world that will chew you up and spit you out if you aren’t mentally prepared for its brutality? It takes a foundation and it takes convictions. Over the last 2 years that is what we have been refining. I didn’t know how to explain RULE when we began. “This program is an enigma wrapped inside a riddle!” That’s what I told my father when we returned home from State College after our first study institute. Now I know how to summarize RULE. RULE helps you build your foundation so when the world tries to knock you off your feet you are more prepared to handle the challenge. RULE creates an intimate setting where your convictions can be challenged in a way that allows each of us to do some soul searching, to get used to reevaluating what we believe to be a concreate fact.

When you decide to take on a leadership role, in any form, it’s not enough to have the courage of your convictions. It is the courage to challenge your convictions that separates a great leader from someone who simply has been given a title. There will be a day where something that you firmly believed to be true suddenly flips. Are you willing to reevaluate the situation and pivot? Or is being right too important that you cannot remove your own blinders.

There will be times when each of us have to work with people who see the world through a completely different lens. What this class has prepared us for is to be able to excel in that situation. Most people in this world strive to do good and when you are dealing with someone who has different views than you, does that come into consideration? Do you give that person the benefit of the doubt? That while they may believe in something that you find detestable that they still can be a good person who you simply have a disagreement with. I would argue that if you want to lead you must look at every induvial as someone who means well even if you have a fundamental disagreement with them.

If you want to lead you must strive to find truth in every situation and when striving for truth you must be willing to allow yourself to get offended. The only way that truth can be discovered or that new ideas can be brought to light is if we allow ourselves and others to push the boundaries of what is the norm. To get to truth you must risk being offensive and you must be ok with being offended so long as it’s not in a malicious manner. Interactions where one party or another is offended is an opportunity for both parties involved to grow.

We are all ignorant in some form or fashion. What RULE has prepared us for is to find those areas where you or others are ignorant on a subject and use it as a learning moment. I hope as we all go our sperate ways that each of us make a personal commitment to never stop learning and to always give others the benefit of the doubt.

It has been a privilege to be a part of this class and to get to know all of you. Let’s remember to take time to thank our families for allowing us to make the time commitment to complete our RULE journey. Also, a huge thank you to JD, Tara, and the management team for working tirelessly to see this class through to the end. No matter how long it would take.

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PSU RULE ~ Ag Division

PSU RULE ~ Ag Division

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A collection of PSU Rural Urban Leadership (RULE) Scholars going in depth about modern agriculture. RULE is the premier leadership program in Pennsylvania