A bottle half-full: Inspiration at the FFA convention

For me, the highlight of the 2011 FFA convention centered around a water bottle. Now, this wasn’t just any old water bottle, it was an AVMA green water bottle with a flip-top lid and carabiner hook. But even that isn’t what made it special. What made it special was the recipient.

First, some background. The AVMA has gone to the FFA National Convention each year for more than 40 years. We host veterinary career workshops and exhibit in the Career Fair, providing veterinary career materials to students and advisors. Just imagine it: more than 53,000 junior high-, high school- and college-aged attendees, enthusiastic about the future and brimming with excitement over the opportunities ahead. They are bright, confident, well-spoken (only ONE girl out of hundreds I met used “like” as every other word in her sentences!), and incredibly attentive.

One of my favorite parts of the meeting is when attendees approach the exhibit hall booth and ask, “Are any of you veterinarians?” When I tell them that, yes, I am a veterinarian, their expressions are so rewarding: you’d swear they’d just met a rock star or their favorite superhero. Plus, there’s no other meeting I attend where I can walk around the halls between CE sessions and see people roping each other for fun and practice. That’s a sight you need to see to truly appreciate.

Back to the water bottle. This year, we took 500 water bottles to give away. As expected, they were all gone within two hours. But on the last day of the exhibit hall, I discovered one lonely bottle that had fallen under a table. At that moment, my colleagues and I decided that this was the Excalibur of water bottles, and it would only be awarded to someone very special. Our quest was simple: find that most deserving attendee who would set themselves apart from the others and pull the metaphorical sword from the stone to claim their rightful prize. We’d all know when the time was right. We’d just know.

Since it was the last day of the exhibit hall, we only had a few hours to find this special person. Would our quest be successful? As the hours wound down, we met some wonderful attendees, but none had that special something, that one quality that we couldn’t define yet would set this person apart from the rest. We started to wonder if we’d have to settle and give it to a deserving, yet not ideal, individual.

And then, as if in answer to our prayers, a young, dark-haired girl approached our booth. She was dressed in the traditional FFA garb: white button-down shirt; blue corduroy FFA jacket with her name embroidered on the front and the FFA logo and her FFA chapter’s name emblazoned on the back; black skirt; black hose and black shoes. She smiled and asked if any of us were veterinarians. When I answered yes, she momentarily got that star-struck look in her eyes, and then started telling me about how she’s going to be a veterinarian and how much she enjoyed working for a veterinarian. She said, “I saw the coolest thing last week. I was at the clinic and they were getting a German shepherd ready for surgery. I asked what was wrong with the dog. They replied that they weren’t 100% sure, but they think she had a mass in her abdomen and they were going to explore her to find out. Guess what? They found and removed a NINE POUND tumor from her spleen! It was SOOO cool! Do you want to see it?”

Her eyes bright with the excitement of a child anticipating a visit from Santa Claus, she extracted her smartphone from her jacket pocket and showed me the photo of the excised spleen and associated tumor. As she showed me the picture, my coworkers reached under the table, brought out Excalibur, and handed it to me. Then I presented it to her.

Quest completed. Any aspiring vet who keeps a photo of a nine-pound splenic mass on her iPhone deserves that very special water bottle.

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