Northwood FFA student Matthew Sullivan gets scholarship to attend summer leadership conference

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PITTSBORO — Northwood High School junior Matthew Sullivan received a scholarship last week through the North Carolina Future Farmers of America Association to attend a national leadership conference this summer in Washington, D.C.

An officer of Northwood’s FFA chapter, Sullivan was one of 15 scholarship recipients statewide — and the only from Chatham County — according to club advisor Lindsay Davis. Sullivan originally applied in early February, and after an interview two weeks ago, he received word that he’d been awarded the scholarship last Tuesday.

“I’m just really excited for the conference and to get to attend and have this opportunity,” Sullivan, 16, told the News + Record.

First created in 1969, the National FFA Organization’s Washington Leadership Conference brings together FFA members from all over the country for five days to develop their leadership abilities and create service plans designed to make a difference in their communities. Any high school-aged FFA member may attend the conference.

“WLC inspires FFA members to become changemakers in their communities,” the National FFA wrote about the conference on its website. “Each day of the conference focuses on a different principle taught through the context of our nation’s capital; those pillars being Explore, Encourage, Advocate and Serve.”

The conference also builds in time for students to tour some of the capital’s most significant historical sites and landmarks, plus a few hours to meet their congressional representatives and senators — something in which Sullivan said he’s particularly interested.

“I definitely want to make the most out of the opportunity, and as an individual, I’m very interested in learning more about, like, my political leaders, so I can do a better job of staying active and kind of knowing what’s happening locally and on a state level and nationally,” he said. “So I think being able to meet with a senator would be a great opportunity for me, and also just for being able to meet new people and to have that experience.”

This summer’s conference will offer seven five-day sessions to students beginning Tuesday, June 7, at the Omni Shoreham Hotel and ending Saturday, July 30. It’s the first conference the National FFA Organization has held since 2019, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s also Sullivan’s first time attending the conference — as well as one of the few large in-person FFA events he’ll participate in since joining the organization in his first year of high school.

“Because the pandemic started whenever I was a freshman, a lot of the events that took place were virtual for me,” he said, “and so, this is definitely the biggest event that I’m going to be attending in person, which is really exciting.”

According to the conference’s fee structure, student participation usually costs just over $1,000 — a sum Sullivan’s scholarship will cover in full.

“Getting the scholarship makes it a lot easier to go because I don’t have to fundraise through the chapter for the event,” he said, adding, “It covers pretty much everything except for transportation to and from the event, and as of right now, I think my advisor and I are both planning on going.”

Since registration just opened this week, he’s not yet sure which session he’ll attend, but he said he and his FFA advisor are probably leaning toward sometime in June.

“It’ll be a great experience for me to be able to go but also to be able to bring back what I learned because I think by the end of the conference, from my understanding, is that you develop a plan for what you can implement at your local chapter,” Sullivan added. “And so, it’ll be a great way that I can have a plan for next year of what we’re going to accomplish and what we can do to be more involved in the community.”

Sullivan originally joined Northwood’s FFA chapter in his first year of high school to learn more about different career paths and agriculture more broadly.

“I signed up for agriscience and horticulture my freshman year,” he said, “and then I just kind of kept on doing more things to be involved.”

During Sullivan’s junior year, Northwood FFA members built duck boxes to be placed along Jordan Lake, according to Davis, and organized numerous breakfasts honoring farmers, teachers and school staff. They’ve also created a program called “Hero Helpers” to thank local heroes, including veterans, front-line workers and first responders, for their service by deep-cleaning their yards. A crew of 20 students, including Sullivan, cleaned two such homes over Thanksgiving break last year and plan to clean several more over Spring Break next month.

Beyond his FFA membership, Sullivan’s also involved in Boy Scouts, his church’s youth group, the Pittsboro Kiwanis Club and various other extracurriculars and athletics at Northwood.

“Matthew is a wonderful student academically, and he is an outstanding leader in our FFA Chapter,” Davis told the News + Record. “He comes up with new and innovative ideas and is very passionate about giving back to the community.”

While he’s looking forward to developing a community service plan, touring D.C. and meeting his congressional representatives, Sullivan said he’s most excited about meeting other students and FFA members from around the country.

“I think that’ll be a really cool opportunity to be able to meet with people that I would never have had the opportunity to meet before and also just to be able to have a new experience,” he said. “I’m going to go into it with, like, an open mind and just hoping to have the best experience possible.”

Reporter Victoria Johnson can be reached at victoria@chathamnr.com.

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