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Maturity beyond her years

Teenager Sarah Rutledge exhibits leadership akin to adulthood and fellow students follow her


by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - As a leader, Sarah Rutledge, left, is capable of leading class discussion, facilitating workshops or speaking extemporaneously on many topics.It’s not often that adult maturity shines through the youthful qualities of a teenager.

Sarah Rutledge, a senior at Sandy High School and president of her FFA chapter, is one exception. One of her teachers, Trisha Smith, who teaches agriculture science and technology, says Rutledge is “an old soul.”

Not only does she exhibit the maturity of a much older person, she also has an organized mind and can plan and direct activities with a number of people involved.

And no one recognizes Rutledge’s leadership skills more than her fellow classmates, who look to her for guidance.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Sandy FFA Chapter President Sarah Rutledge, left, guides some FFA members in a leadership activity called the Human Table, designed to teach each person to support the group as a whole by supporting not only themselves but also the others. Sandy High School junior and FFA chapter treasurer Carlos Deker characterizes Rutledge as a “great person and a friend.”

“(Rutledge) has a leadership personality,” Deker said. “She’s never really different. She always carries herself as if she’s in a leadership role. She knows what to do, and she has everything planned out. She’s very organized, and knows what each person should be doing. She’s always on top of things.”

Recent achievement

One other group of people also recognized not only her potential, but also what she is capable of today. The delegates at the Oregon FFA Association recently voted Rutledge in as vice president of the statewide organization.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - The newly installed officers of the Oregon FFA Association surround State Vice-President Sarah Rutledge of Sandy, front row center. This years state officers are from chapters in small and large cities around the state - three from the east side and three from the west. Smith will tell you that’s huge. With the amount of confidence-building experience Rutledge will receive in the next year, she will be just a few speeches and interviews away from a national office — should she choose to seek that position in the next three years.

To seek national office usually means postponing entrance to college or university.

Natural leader

Smith believes Rutledge is a natural leader, and is now realizing what it means to influence other people’s lives in a positive manner.

“She’s really dedicated to being a leader,” Smith said, “and her leadership has grown a lot since she was a freshman.

“Even when she was a junior and she was not the FFA president, the other students who were older than her and in higher-ranking offices would often look to her to be their leader.”

It’s not like she just got started leading others. Over the past three years or more, she has been in at least a half-dozen positions of leadership at different levels. She has held three FFA offices at Sandy High School, two in the Mt. Hood FFA District and now one at the state level.

Smith has watched as Rutledge has developed and has been helpful to Smith in her role as FFA chapter adviser and teacher of vocational agriculture.

“When you have a conversation with her, she is very mature,” Smith said. “I think that came across well when she was running for state office.

“The other students react to (Rutledge) very positively. They look to her as their leader.”

Inspiring, motivational

Deker described why Rutledge’s form of leadership is compatible with students.

“She sets an example to follow,” Deker said, “things we might try to achieve that she has already accomplished.

“When you look at a leader, you should want to be like them — to follow in their footsteps. (Rutledge) really sets a goal for us to follow her and achieve the same things she did.”

Rutledge has been in a lot of training since she was elected to state office. The training is not finished, and she will find many opportunities to put that training to work for the benefit of others her age.

“We had (state) training to speak at banquets and for those short speeches with only 30 seconds to prepare,” she said.

“We learned more about how to facilitate groups and keep the group and our thoughts organized. We also learned how to prepare activities so they’re active and engaging for everyone of all ages.”

Leadership’s demands

As a state officer, she will occasionally be away from Sandy High School, attending to her new responsibilities, which include facilitating workshops, conducting leadership activities, speaking to large and small groups, meeting people in business and government, and inspiring tomorrow’s leaders.

She’ll also go to the nation’s capital for the state presidents’ conference, attend the National FFA Convention in Kentucky and potentially go on a trip to China to promote agriculture.

But mainly she will be in Oregon’s agriculture classrooms, talking with other students like herself.

“The education we’re involved in is based on leadership,” she said. “We’re teaching aspects of being in the FFA and how to prepare and fulfill the duties of an office.”

Principles of living

She’s really a mentor, and some of the traits she sets an example for are kindness and acceptance.

Deker describes it from his view as a classmate who sees her around school every day.

“She’s kind to everybody she meets,” Deker said. “I’ve never seen her discriminate against anyone. If someone is different from the people she usually hangs out with, she’ll still make them her friend.”

In the way she lives her life, Rutledge has what some would call principles. To her it’s no big deal — just the way she does things. But to others, her life is inspiring and motivating.

That and the personal skills she has developed are what make her a natural leader.

Rutledge says being involved in leadership positions is important to her because of the positive influence it can have on other people.

“One of the things I live by is: You can’t choose what happens to you each day, but you can choose how you react to them,” she said. “And being a positive influence to other people is really important. Some people have influenced me with that, and I try to give it back.”

What lies ahead?

In a year or two, national officers will select a national officer candidate from Oregon, and Rutledge is on a track that could qualify her to be considered.

“I could see Sarah pursuing a national office,” Smith said. “But she’s not talking about that yet. It’s a very challenging, grueling process to be selected, and the candidate must have been or is a state officer and could be as old as 21.”

Rutledge’s leadership experience as a teenager will always be something that she can remember and draw on for confidence. Smith says it will be a building block for the rest of her life.

“I don’t know which path her life will take — college and a traditional career or military leadership or national FFA office — but this is definitely a stepping-stone.”