While her classmates may have excelled on athletic playing fields during the past four years, Emily Clark has been cultivating her own variety of success.
The Iola High School senior will graduate with honors Sunday, harvesting accolades for her hard work in the classroom and in the field where she’s shone — the field of agriculture.
In addition to earning a perfect 4.0 grade-point average, Clark earned the prestigious State Degree through the national FFA organization.
Her “final exam” for the agricultural program included producing and harvesting about 24 acres of cropland on the family farm, located a mile north of town on Rhode Island Road.
“I paid rent for the land, planted it, took care of it, harvested it, I did all that stuff,” Clark said.
With high school in the bin, Clark is happy with what she has harvested.
“Looking back, I think, wow, it’s crazy how much I’ve really done,” she said. “I really feel like I’ve grasped the opportunities I’ve had, and all of the rewards are coming in now.
As a little girl, Clark, daughter of Nathan and Cindy Clark, said she wanted to be like her mother, who teaches first grade at McKinley Elementary. Today, her dad’s life as a farmer is her role model.
“I love his work ethic,” she said. “My dad has really influenced me on what I want to do with my life.”
Charles Kerr, ag instructor and FFA adviser at the high school, praised Emily’s own work ethic.
“There are 164 FFA chapters in the state Kansas, with over 7,000 FFA members. Less than 2 percent of them get the State FFA degree,” Kerr said. “Emily also has her sights on obtaining the American FFA Degree, that’s the highest degree that is bestowed, and she should get that next year.”
School Registrar Susan Owens said Clark’s leadership ability and sense of responsibility set her apart from her peers. Clark worked as a student aide for Owens this year, cheerfully copying, filing, doing whatever needed to be done.
“You never have to tell Emily more than once, she’s that type of kid,” Owens said. “She comes from a strong family. Her mother is a teacher, her grandmother was a teacher. She has a good background. Her parents have taught her well.”
Happy, confident and self-directed, the ever-smiling Clark has a “western bling” thing going with her wardrobe — square-toed boots, distressed jeans with holes in the knees, snap-button blouse, silver belt glittering.
She also wears a pink band around her wrist for breast cancer awareness because a lot of people she knows have been affected by the disease. Around the other wrist there’s a band for pulling back her hair which gets “kind of unruly sometimes” working in the Kansas wind.
True to her glam and grain couture, Clark wore a dazzling blue dress to the prom, and was driven there by her date in a John Deere combine.
She frequently wears the familiar blue corduroy jacket worn by FFA members. This year she served as FFA vice-president and was vice-president of the senior class.
CLARK’S LINGO is sprinkled with farm talk. Harvest yields, diseases, and profits.
The American Degree requires that she produce from a $7,500 investment. She has experienced the same stress and struggle real farmers face, trying to get a crop out of the ground.
“There were so many challenges,” she said. “This past year was with my bean crop, I got hit really bad with diseases and I couldn’t decide if it would have been beneficial to spray it with fungicide or pesticide, because I also had a lot of bug problems.”
Her father does most of his own maintenance and repair work on the machinery/
“He can take anything apart and put it back together in his shop,” she said. “He tries to teach me. I try to learn.”
Clark plans to stay home after graduation to help her father, working parttime as a hired hand. Her full-time job will be taking science courses at Allen County Community College, where she has earned a full academic scholarship. (She also was awarded a $1,500 FFA Foundation scholarship). She’s already taken 21 hours of ACCC courses through the high school.
By staying on the farm, she gets to delay “that leaving home thing” for at least another year before moving on to Kansas State University’s agronomy program in Manhattan.
Clark admits that she may have to surround herself with some burly men if she ever runs her own farm. While the FFA program promotes young women in the business of agriculture, the real world of farming is still rigidly defined by traditional roles, she admits.
“I would love to farm for a job, but, it scares me a bit,” she said. “Being a woman in agriculture, farming for my life’s role and life’s job just seems scary.”