Crystal Bomgardner is a firm believer in seizing those moments in life that present an opportunity to you.

“My life’s motto is just do whatever comes down the pike because you never when you’ll get the opportunity to do it again or if you’ll get that opportunity to do it again,” said 19-year-old Bomgardner, the daughter of Corwin and Tara Bomgardner of Jonestown. “Just leave your impact and leave your mark on wherever you go and whatever you do.”

Bomgardner is certainly putting her philosophy into practice. She was recently elected as the 2023-24 president of the state chapter of FFA just two years after serving as Lebanon County Dairy Princess in 2021 and an alternate state dairy princess. 

Read More: County dairy princess promotes industry to consumers, looks forward to Lebanon Area Fair

Working to seize this particular moment as FFA president was the fulfillment of a life-long dream for Bomgardner, who took a gap year from majoring in music at the University of Valley Forge in Phoenixville to pursue her passion. 

“I decided to run because I’ve always wanted to be a state officer,” she said. “I made the decision (to run) in March, submitted my application by the May 1 deadline and was elected in June, June 15th, at the Pennsylvania FFA state convention at Penn State College of Ag Sciences during our sessions at Bryce Jordan Center.”

Moments after being announced as the 2023-24 state FFA president, Crystal Bomgardner’s first official act was to give her acceptance speech before officially closing the 2023 state convention in State College. (Provided photo)

This year’s convention was an emotional rollercoaster for Bomgardner who, along with the other officer candidates, went through several interviews before and at the convention in front of the “Nom Comm” or nominating committee. (It’s Nom Comm’s job to ultimately decide which of the candidates will serve in the coming year as one of the seven statewide FFA officer team members.)

“One thing that helped me prepare for the way I did feel was being a state alternate dairy princess in the past. It is kind of a similar process, so I kind of knew how I was going to feel,” said Bomgardner. “Obviously, you have the nerves because it’s anyone’s game. We have 33 candidates who were more than qualified to be state officers, so you could go in that room and leave it all on the table and still not make the team.”

The last day of the convention was especially a nerve-racking morning for Bomgardner, who had no idea her life-long dream was about to be fulfilled. 

“I knew that I left everything in the nominating committee room and did the best that I could, and so I was confident in that aspect, but the first thing I did when I woke up was call my mom and said, ‘Mom, I don’t know what I am going to do today’ ’cause it’s a nerve-racking experience. I got up at 5 a.m. because I was that nervous.” 

The announcement of the officer team is, of course, one of the last activities before the curtain closes on another convention.

“We had to sit through all of the awards, all of the public speaking, the career development awards, and it is just building and you’re getting more and more nervous,” said Bomgardner, who added the candidates had moved to the back of the room as the Nom Comm members were being introduced, which is a prelude to the state officer team announcement.

“At this point we’re all crying because everyone is nervous,” said Bomgardner. “It’s a super emotional moment because everyone has worked so hard to get there. We’ve poured our lives, and the mentors and our advisors have poured their lives into building us for four years, and this is also our way of giving back to FFA.” 

The butterflies in Bomgardner’s stomach hit a crescendo the moment the song Sirius by Alan Parsons Project began to play. (The familiar instrumental song was first used in 1987 as a way to introduce the Chicago Bulls basketball team and others have appropriated it over the years to be their walk-on music.)

“They had announced the vice president who is Clayton and then it was, ‘Your 2023-24 state president is…’ and at this point I am thinking, ‘Oh, no, I didn’t get it,’ because there are so many other qualified people,” said Bomgardner. “The emotions that ran through my brain were mixed emotions because I didn’t think I got on the team since there are so many other people more deserving of it.”

Then, she heard her name called. 

“When they announced my name, everything was so worth it in that moment,” she said. “I almost had a sense of amnesia when that happened because I don’t even remember (walking on stage). All of us celebrated on stage and then we had two seconds to breath before being whisked backstage.”

Backstage, Pennsylvania FFA executive director Michael Brammer congratulated the officer team and gave them a quick speech.

“He just said, ‘State office starts right now and you have a mission and an impact to the 15,000 members and it starts right now,’” recalled Bomgardner. “It was a really awesome time. We were still all crying – except for Clayton who is the only guy on the team. All of the girls are crying, but he was hugging us and wasn’t the least bit upset, so it was really funny and a special moment.”

The first two months have been a whirlwind for Bomgardner as state president. The team has participated in officer training, attended Ag Progress Days in Centre County and met with Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding at the state agriculture building headquarters in Harrisburg.

One of Crystal Bomgardner’s first duties as state FFA president was meeting with Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding. (Provided photo)

Bomgardner also had the opportunity to meet with Redding at Ag Progress Days. There, she shared the teams’ platform and concerns over a lack of agricultural educators across Pennsylvania with Redding and at least one other state legislator. 

“There’s a lack across the United States but especially in Pennsylvania,” said Bomgardner. “Our FFA chapters are growing so much and we need agricultural educators and we’re trying to brainstorm right now what we can do to really incentivize students going to school for ag ed and then returning to school to teach agricultural education. Not everyone who goes for ag ed comes back to the classroom.”

Bomgardner also has a personal passion for home-schoolers and online charter school students to have greater access to agricultural education opportunities and the ability to participate in local FFA programs.

“I was home-schooled throughout high school and most people don’t know I graduated home-school as well,” she said. “So, I had the opportunity to attend my local public school for FFA, but not everyone gets that opportunity.” 

While that may not be a personal goal that she’ll accomplish this year, Bomgardner added she is dedicated to making it her life’s mission to open doors for FFA participation by home-schooled and online students. 

“Ulltimately, FFA’s goal is to reach everyone with agriculture, every student with agriculture education and opportunities in leadership, but right now there’s nothing set up for home-schoolers and cyber students to have access to that,” added Bomgardner.

Crystal Bomgardner, a former Lebanon County dairy princess, poses for a picture with dairy calf “Miska” during a dairy promotion event at Jonestown Elementary School. Bomgardner was county dairy princess in 2021 and a state alternate princess during her year-long reign. (Provided photo)

Bomgardner said the team will visit as many local FFA chapters as possible in “all four corners of Pennsylvania” in the coming school year once schools have opened for the fall session. (Lebanon County has not one, but two state officers on this year’s team. Maggie McAteer of Little Dutchman FFA, the chapter located at Annville-Cleona High School, is the reporter on the state officer team.)

On those trips, Bomgardner will seize the moment to share her passions with everyone she meets along the way.

“I think just taking every opportunity this year to experience things in a different way. You only have one year to do this experience and to make the impact you have,” she said. “So, I think just taking every opportunity I can to connect with members, to connect with business professionals, industry representatives, and just to get the word of agriculture out there and the opportunities available in agriculture.”

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James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; Lancaster...